It is difficult today to conceive of an artist not being allowed to attend her own art show, but such was the case for Clementine Hunter. Prejudice, poverty, and all manner of hardships dogged her throughout her life, but she overcame adversity to create art wherever and whenever she could, even if that meant substituting old blinds for a canvas. Kids will find Hunter’s persistence and dedication to her craft inspiring and hopefully come away with newfound respect for folk art as a genre.
What makes one person’s trash another’s treasure? How do we decide who is a “good artist”? Is it limited to replicating what we see? Visionary artist Tessa Prisbey would probably say no. Building walls out of bottles, collecting vast arrays of pencils, and curating a house for her dolls – this eccentric creator helps to show kids that being an artist is also a state of mind.
Mia previously recommended
this gorgeous read on a textile luminary in her list of best books to do with fabric and clothing, but it merits a place on this listicle also. Bourgeois is the perfect artist to introduce to kids who gravitate to fibers and cloth as their medium of choice.
Budding photographers, especially ones with a more documentarian bent, should be made aware of Dorothea Lange’s critical role in documenting the agonies of the Great Depression, an era with some unsettling similarities to our current moment. For another excellent and slightly more recent biography of Lange, you can also turn to Carole Boston Weatherford’s Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression
Gorgeously illustrated and lovingly rendered, this biography gives kids an accessible introduction to the fascinating, often heartbreaking life of an artistic icon. Frida Kahlo suffered from polio, miscarriages, and a crippling accident, but transformed her sorrow and suffering into unforgettable self-portraits that have defined that genre. Hand this one to any child interested in self-portraiture or painting, especially those who have experienced illness.
Mary Nohl’s outdoor sculptures, many of which she made with “beach debris,” populate her remarkable garden in Fox Point, Wisconsin to this day, even though she died in 2001. Sadly, during her lifetime, Nohl was often regarded as a “witch,” and her work was frequently vandalized, but it’s heartening that this book introduces a new and potentially appreciative generation to her work.
For many natural history enthusiasts unaware of the fact, a great debt is owed to botanical and zoological illustrators like Maria Sibylla Merian, whose painstaking accuracy was the gold standard in the field for decades. Give this page-turner to any child who loves nature, animals, and dreams of travelling the world making scientific discoveries.
One of the best-known names on this list, Cassatt’s portraits (especially of mothers and children) are venerated at museums worldwide today, but during her lifetime, women were not considered artists at all. Yet Cassatt gained admission to one of the most elite circles of artists ever to convene, taking part in Parisian salons and making her place in history. Give this one to those who already show an affinity for Van Gogh, Monet, and Degas but may not know about Cassatt’s equally vital contributions.
Many children will recognize the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, DC, but few may realize that it was masterminded by artist and architect Maya Lin, who was a college student when she anonymously entered the competition to design it. With somber, beautiful illustrations by Dow Phumiruk, this is a suitable introduction to Lin’s work and significance.
Long before the so-called “selfie” was ubiquitous, Cindy Sherman was turning it into an art form with her dazzlingly chameleonic self-portraits. It can be difficult to recognize her from photo to photo, so distinct is her appearance in each. Best for older elementary and middle school readers, this is a fine introduction to an important and influential photographer.
It’s hard to imagine a time when nature and science weren’t part of every child’s schooling, but as Slade demonstrates here, Anna Comstock was one of the first educators to see the value in teaching children about these topics. An artist and educator, Comstock was a student of the natural world and bucked convention to pursue science at a time when it was considered a purely male domain. Give this one to kids who bring home pet toads and newts and collect birds’ wings.