Two exhibitions worth a visit at NAAM in Seattle: Daniel Minter’s vivid artwork featured in “The Foot Warmer and the Crow” and other books, and Earline Alston’s paintings.
Step into the gallery at the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) where “Daniel Minter: Carvings” is on display, and you may wonder: “Wait a minute. Where are the carvings?”
They’re hanging right in front of you, but they’re subtle. Rather than 3-D stand-alone sculptures, they’re colorfully painted bas-reliefs that served as illustrations for a children’s book by Evelyn Coleman titled “The Foot Warmer and the Crow.”
Reproductions of these pieces offer no clue that they’re anything but two-dimensional. But stand close to them, and you can see that the contours of their human and corvid characters are raised slightly from their backdrops. Minter’s paintwork enhances the three-dimensional effect to the point where you want to graze your fingers over their surfaces to see which illusions are paint-created and which are hewed with a chisel, even though a sign nearby warns you, “Absolutely no touching the art.”
‘Daniel Minter: Carvings’
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursdays, through Sept. 17. Northwest African American Museum, 2300 S. Massachusetts St., Seattle; $5-$7 (206-518-6000 or naamnw.org).
“The Foot Warmer and the Crow,” according to Publishers Weekly, is a tale of an enslaved man counseled by a clever crow on how to escape his master. Copyright restrictions mean none of the text from the book accompanies the artwork, so the viewer is left to guess the details of the plot. Still, the spirit of the tale comes through loud and clear in Minter’s acrylic-on-carved-panel paintings.
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Scenes of cotton-picking and a panicky encounter with a barking dog alternate with dream images. The enslaved man fantasizes about soaring into an orange sky filled with crows. Later, one of the birds raises his beak to offer advice to the would-be runaway. Minter’s compositions are buoyant, inventive and, in one where the slave serves as a “foot warmer” in his master’s bed, appropriately grotesque.
“The Foot Warmer and the Crow” is the highlight of the show. But it’s in good company with other children’s book illustrations, all color or black-and-white block prints by Minter, a Georgia-born African-American artist now living in Maine.
Minter makes especially striking use of compositional distortion. In one of his illustrations for a tale called “Bubber Goes to Heaven,” for instance, the left hand of an elderly angel in a business suit and fedora is magnified in scale to emphasize the small pair of wings he’s offering a new heavenly arrival.
In some cases, Minter’s linoleum blocks and even his preliminary pencil sketches are included to shed light on how he arrives at his final product. “Daniel Minter: Carvings,” whether exploring racially charged themes or something more folkloric, offers visual delights.
Down the hall from the show is “Spirit of Nature,” a small display of paintings by Earline Alston running through May 28 that’s also well worth investigating. Alston has a most unusual story behind her. It was only after she was recovering from brain surgery in 2014 that she developed an interest in creating visual art. But you’d never know that from looking at her work.
Using chalk pastel, oil pastel, ink and watercolors infused with acrylic, she conjures landscapes that read like allegories. In “A Greater Force of Nature,” a mountain seems to grow directly out of the treetops in the foreground. In “A Time to Blossom,” Alston combines both a close-up and a longshot of cherries in bloom. In other paintings, tree branches seem to detach from their trunks and engage in an airborne colloquy. The results are simultaneously naturalistic and stylized, reality-rooted and ethereal.