Dispatch (November 12, 1992): p.
for Folk Artist Behind ‘Elijah’s Angel’.”
By Nancy Gilson
The making of Elijah's Angel is a
tale of friendship.
The writer and illustrator of the
children's book were inspired by their mutual friend - Columbus woodcarver and
barber Elijah Pierce.
Michael J. Rosen, literary
director of the Thurber House, met Pierce as a teen-ager and later transformed
the experience into a story. Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson met Pierce when she was
a young mother, then became his student and friend. Rosen and Robinson have
known each other 12 years.
Their new picture book, Elijah's
Angel (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $13.95), not only embraces multiculturalism
but also lovingly recalls the city's most famous folk artist.
Although publishers usually
select the artists for children's books, Rosen knew he wanted Robinson.
''No one else would have known
Elijah,'' he said. ''I didn't have to describe the heater and the pipes in
Elijah's studio to Aminah. She knew more about it than I did.''
Pierce, who died in 1984, worked
in a small studio on E. Long Street, where he told stories and preached as a lay
minister; carved wooden figures, often biblical in subject; cut hair; met with
friends; and visited with children.
Rosen met him through friends
Howard and Mimi Chenfeld, who gave Rosen the angel that became the subject of
the book. Pierce had given Rosen, who is Jewish, a cross, but Rosen thought the
angel better suited his story.
It concerns a young Jewish boy
whom Elijah befriends and who struggles with the Christian gift of an angel. The
story takes place during Christmas and Hanukkah. While the adults seem to live
easily in a world with diverse cultures and beliefs, the boy feels guilty for
accepting the angel.
''I think the world to a child is
more discrepant than harmonious,'' Rosen said.
The incident that sparked the
story occurred when he was older, but Rosen made the character a 9-year-old.
''I knew this was going to be a
picture book, and in many ways . . . my relationship with him was like that of a
9-year-old. I was agog at his stories and art.''
As a young artist, Robinson spent
hours drawing with Pierce at his studio. She owns several works by Pierce and
once sketched a lion that he carved as a gift for Robinson's mother.
Robinson - who often uses
unconventional paints and found materials for her paintings, assemblages and
sculptures - created the illustrations for Elijah's Angel with house paints,
natural dyes and rag cloth. The frayed edges are visible in the book's full-page
''Just as Elijah used chewing gum
to stick the base to my angel, Aminah has a wonderful way of using common
objects in her art. There's no interference, no artifice,'' Rosen said.
''Another wonderful, sophisticated, children's book illustrator wouldn't have
Although Robinson has created
numerous fabric ''books,'' Elijah's Angel is her first traditional book with a
major publisher. While meeting with Robinson, a Harcourt Brace Jovanovich editor
discovered Robinson sketches that accompany Negro spirituals. They have become
Robinson's second book, The Teachings ($26.95).
The original paintings for
Elijah's Angel will go on exhibit Dec. 6 at the opening of the Thurber Center,
next to the Thurber House.
Rosen and Robinson plan another
children's book, about a self-sacrificing former slave.
''I've always been committed to
stories for all ages,'' Rosen said, ''and I'm interested in unlikely families
''Elijah's Angel is not about
being black or being Jewish,'' Robinson said. ''It's about being Christian or
Jewish. But the book is more than a collaboration. It has to do with the love we
both felt for Elijah Pierce.''
Michael Rosen and Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson make Elijah's Angel real.
Cameron Craig/ Dispatch
Copyright 1992 The Columbus
REPRINTED, WITH PERMISSION, FROM THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH