Ralph Fasanella: Artist of the People

I'm Gonna Paint: Ralph Fasanella, Artist of the PeopleI find this book so excit­ing! I love dis­cov­er­ing a new artist and I con­fess that I’m not famil­iar with Ralph Fasanella’s paint­ings. Now that Anne Broyles and Vic­to­ria Tentler-Krylov have shown him to me so vivid­ly, I will be seek­ing out his paint­ings in museums.

It’s such an apro­pos book for our times. Fasanel­la grew up in a work­ing-class fam­i­ly, in a ten­e­ment, with one par­ent deliv­er­ing ice and the oth­er sewing in a fac­to­ry. His moth­er was a strong believ­er in unions, so he grew up with the rhetoric and move­ment of work­ers fight­ing for their rights. With the renewed focus on unions, this is an ide­al book to bring into the classroom.

Broyles writes about Fasanel­la in a way that elo­quent­ly shows the chal­lenges he faced as a child and teen, includ­ing time in a “reform” school. He had deter­mi­na­tion and ener­gy and a belief in stand­ing up for what he believed in. I don’t know how a read­er could help but feel fired up by the work he did.

Not until he was 31 did Fasanel­la pick up a pen­cil to draw. He paint­ed what he saw all around him and he paint­ed from mem­o­ry. His mind was filled with impor­tant details, which he includ­ed in his paint­ings. There is a lot to look at!

In the same way, Tentler-Krylov evokes those paint­ings with her col­or­ful, extra­or­di­nar­i­ly detailed illus­tra­tions. There is so much col­or, move­ment, tex­ture, and empa­thy in her pages that read­ers will be moved to under­stand­ing. And her faces! Every sin­gle per­son is an indi­vid­ual — you can set off on your own adven­ture telling their stories.

Exten­sive back mat­ter is just as excit­ing as the book’s text and illus­tra­tions. Five of Fasanella’s paint­ings are includ­ed (with cit­ed per­mis­sion, so help­ful for stu­dents). Pho­tographs show us the Fasanel­la fam­i­ly and Ralph Fasanel­la himself.

There is a “Time Line of Ralph Fasanella’s Life” (1914 to 1997), with con­tex­tu­al dates before and after.

Some­thing I’ve nev­er seen done before is “See­ing Amer­i­can His­to­ry through Fasanella’s Paint­ings.” The his­toric event is giv­en and the title of the paint­ing that illus­trates that event, as well as the date he cre­at­ed the paint­ing. For exam­ple, “Ethel and Julius Rosen­berg: Gar­den Par­ty” (1954), “Gray Day” (1963).

The bib­li­og­ra­phy and Fur­ther Read­ing sec­tions will be enor­mous­ly help­ful to stu­dents and those who want to know more about this artist for the people.

This is an impor­tant book. I hope we’ll see more from these two.

Three quotes by Fasanel­la, which I have now pinned up over my desk:

I didn’t paint my paint­ings to hang in some rich guy’s liv­ing room. My paint­ings are about peo­ple and they should be seen by peo­ple, not hid­den away.”

I just feel that art and pol­i­tics can’t be separated.”

You want to be smart, go to the library.”

I’m Gonna Paint: Ralph Fasanel­la,
Artist of the Peo­ple
writ­ten by Anne Broyles
illus­trat­ed by Vic­to­ria Tentler-Krylov
Hol­i­day House, 2023
sug­gest­ed for ages 7 and old­er
ISBN 978 – 0823450060

I'm Gonna Paint: Ralph Fasanella, Artist of the People
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