The Artist: Tom Feelings

Tom Feelings, well known artist and illustrator of children's books passed away on August 25, 2003.  He was 70 years old.

A native of Brooklyn, New York, Feelings attended the school of Visual Arts for two years and then joined the Air Force in 1953, working in London as a staff artist for the Graphics Division of the Third Air Force. From 1959 until 1964 he worked as a freelance artist, his primary subjects drawn from the Black people of his community. In 1961, he went south to draw the people of Black rural communities: some of these drawings were published in Look magazine as part of a feature entitled "The Negro in the U.S."

In 1964, Feelings traveled to Ghana, where he spent two years working for the Ghana

government's magazine, The African Review, teaching illustration, and serving as an art consultant for the government publishing house. In 1966, he returned to the United States to concentrate on illustrating books with African and African-American themes. To Be a Slave, written by Julius Lester and illustrated by Feelings, was chosen as the 1969 Newberry Honor Book, and was the first book of its kind to receive such an award. From 1971 - 1974. Feelings lived in Guyana, South America, working as a teacher and consultant for the Ministry of Education, and training young artists in textbook illustration.

Feelings received numerous awards for his illustrations. "Moja Means One," a Swahili counting book, and "Jambo Means Hello," a Swahili alphabet book, both written by Muriel Feelings, were chosen as Caldecott Honor Books in 1972 and 1974 and earned Brooklyn Arts Awards for Children citations from the Brooklyn Museum. "Jambo Means Hello" also won a Biennial of Illustrations award in Bratislava, Yugoslavia, The Horn Book Award from the Boston Globe in 1974, and a nomination for the American Book Award in 1982. "Something on My Mind" won the Coretta Scott King Award in 1978. The School of Visual Arts recognized him with its Outstanding Achievement Award in 1974. He has received eight Certificates of Merit from The Society of Illustrators, along with a National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artists Fellowship Grant in 1982. Feelings has been featured on numerous television programs.

In 1974, Feelings returned to New York, spending his time lecturing, attending exhibits throughout the country, and working on a book entitled "The Middle Passage," which depicts the journeys of slaves from Africa to America.

In His Own Words

"When I am asked what kind of work I do, my answer is that I am a storyteller, in picture form, who tries to reflect and interpret the lives and experiences of the people that gave me life. When I am asked who I am, I say, I am an African who was born in America. Both answers connect me specifically with my past and present ... therefore I bring to my art a quality which is rooted in the culture of Africa ... and expanded by the experience of being in America. I use the vehicle of 'fine art' and 'illustration' as a viable expression of form, yet striving always to do this from an African perspective, an African world view, and above all to tell the African story ... this is my content. The struggle to create artwork as well as to live creatively under any conditions and survive (like my ancestors), embodies my particular heritage in America."

Tom Feelings