February 17, 2013

Portland artist's broom illustrations sweep away judges

Daniel Minter won a Coretta Scott King Award for his illustrations for a children's book about a generations-old African-American tradition.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

In African-American culture, the broom represents a rite of passage and an act of ceremony.

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Daniel Minter with a broom in his Portland home. “I didn’t know the author, but I loved her story,” Minter said of Kelly Starling Lyons and “Ellen’s Broom.”

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Image reprinted with permission

Additional Photos Below


TO LEARN MORE: danielminter.com

Before African-Americans were legally allowed to marry in the United States, couples jumped the broom to signify their union.

Portland artist Daniel Minter has used wooden brooms in his art for many years. He has carved them, painted them and otherwise employed them in symbolic ways in his paintings, prints and three- dimensional wooden pieces.

His predisposed interest in brooms led him to react favorably when his book publisher forwarded a manuscript for a children's book, "Ellen's Broom." Minter readily agreed to illustrate the book, creating two dozen linoleum block prints.

Minter, 51, recently got word that he has won a national award for his illustrations for "Ellen's Broom." This summer, he will receive an Illustrator Honor in the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, administered by the American Library Association.

The award recognizes outstanding African-American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African-American culture and human values.

"It's a great honor, and hugely exciting," said Minter, who has illustrated a handful of children's books. "I never expect to win any kind of honor or anything like that. I was floored." 

The book by Kelly Starling Lyons tells the story of former slaves living as husband and wife, who after many years together are given the chance to have their union legally recognized. Minter used his hometown of Ellaville, Ga., as a setting for the illustrations.

The manuscript could not have arrived at a more agreeable time for Minter. He has long been interested in the cultural implications of the wedding broom. Indeed, examples of the brooms that he uses in his art are scattered about his Portland home.

And at the time his services were requested for the book, Maine voters were debating the merits of same-sex marriage. The ballot measure passed at the polls in November, and has since become law.

But when Minter was approached, the debate was raging and the outcome uncertain.

Marriage was very much on his mind.

"I didn't know the author, but I loved her story," said Minter, who has been married for 21 years. "It really resonated. I know a lot of people who are married in spite of not being married by the law. When something is right, the law cannot really keep you from doing it. The act of being married is something you do yourself."

The book explores that notion, and explains the significance of the broom in African-American culture.

The Coretta Scott King Award, named for the wife of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., is the latest honor for Minter, and brings attention to one of Maine's most accomplished contemporary artists.

He previously won a Best Book Award from the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, which recognizes outstanding children's media, and an honor award from the Carter G. Woodson Awards. In 2004 and 2011, the U.S. Postal Service tapped Minter to illustrate its annual Kwanza stamp.

It also comes at a busy time for the artist.

Minter is the founding director of Maine Freedom Trails Inc. He created the markers for the Portland Freedom Trail, which identifies sites related to the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad in Portland. He is in the process of creating a self-guided audio tour of the trail, which he hopes to launch this summer.

Minter, who teaches illustration at Maine College of Art, is preparing a solo gallery show in New Orleans. In April, his work will be part of a figurative group show at Greenhut Galleries in Portland.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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“It will always be part of who we are. Come on, Papa. Let’s show these young folks how it’s done.”

Image printed with permission

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“This broom was there from the start,” Mama said. “So it should come along too, don’t you think?” she said with a wink.

Image reprinted with permission

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“Where are you taking me, Ellen?” her big sister asked. “I have an idea,” Ellen said as her eyes twinkled. “Did you see that patch of flowers outside?” Ruby nodded and a smile stretched across her face.

Image reprinted with permission

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