The cover of “The Women Who Caught The Babies,” illustrated by Daniel Minter of Portland. Image courtesy of Alazar Press

Portland artist Daniel Minter’s latest project is personal.

Minter has illustrated a new children’s book by the esteemed African-American children’s book author and poet Eloise Greenfield, “The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African American Midwives.” Minter was born at home in Ellaville, a rural community in west-central Georgia in what he describes as a long and difficult birth. “It was the midwife who caught me, even after I managed to get mixed up and come feet first,” he wrote on Facebook.

The book is due out in September.

“In those rural areas, you just did not have access to a hospital, for one thing,” Minter said in an interview. “And if there was one, hospitals didn’t accept black patients until recently. You didn’t have that as an easy option, so you had midwives.”

“The Women Who Caught the Babies” tells about the training and work of African-American midwives and their roles in promoting maternal and infant health. Greenfield, 90, is a contemporary of Maine artist and illustrator Ashley Bryan of Little Cranberry Island, and a widely honored writer. She is a member of the National Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent, and last year received the Coretta Scot King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Minter has illustrated dozens of children books, and his art is collected by museums across the country. “The Women Who Caught the Babies” will be his third book in the past year. Last fall, he illustrated “So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom” by Gary D. Schmidt, and his collaboration with author Kelly Starling Lyons, “Going Down Home with Daddy,” came out in April.

For the book about midwifery, Greenfield wrote a series of connected poems about midwives through time, in Africa, after arriving in North America and after emancipation. Minter illustrates the poems with stylistic portrayals of women in attendant repose – dutiful and calm, strong and wise. Many of the illustrations in the book are recent paintings that fit the theme. The rest he made specifically for Greenfield’s poems. The sense and presence of water as the source of life is prevalent throughout the illustrations.

Minter remembers the midwives who attended to his birth, Mrs. Vera and Mrs. Ethel, as respected and valued members of Ellaville. His illustrations reflect his reverence for and appreciation of them and for midwives across time and continents. “We would be really disconnecting ourselves from our own creation if we did not have midwives,” he said.


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