Monday, June 23, 2014

Alabama Story

I recently finished another piece of art for Pioneer Theater. This one for a new play that will have it's world premier this fall called Alabama Story written by Kenneth Jones. The plot revolves around a little known incident (at least I had not been aware of ) that happened in Alabama during the racial tension of the late 1950's.

In 1958,  Garth Williams, famously the illustrator for Charlotte's Web and the Little House on the Prairie books, wrote and illustrated a charming little tale of two rabbits who frolic together and fall in love. At the end of the book the two rabbits  wed in a ceremony attended by their fellow woodland creatures. Innocent enough, right?

Well in the racially charged South, this book became the center of a firestorm because, in the book, one rabbit was white and the other was black. The book was censored and a lawsuit raised to remove the book from the state funded library system. The story revolves around a white librarian, her childhood friend who is a black man and various other lawyers and State legislators who are immersed in sorting out this murky topic.

As I began sketching the art, and admittedly before I read the script, I thought it would be fun to use the rabbits as symbols for the racial tension. Early sketches revolved around the idea of the black and white rabbits and the book that precipitated the argument. Even after I changed the setting to the library shelves, the client felt that the furry rabbit angle gave too much of an impression that this was a children's play so that idea was scrapped.

I still wanted to evoke a feeling racial tension and imply the idea that the story somehow revolved around books, so we switched to the idea of the black character and the white librarian being on opposite sides of the the divide, in this case, a stack of books. The light filtering from the left side illuminates her as she reads and the the other side is symbolically more in shadow.

After this idea was approved, I set to work. I took photos and proceeded to the final drawing and rendering. I think it turned out pretty well considering my deadline was cut about three days short due to a planned excursion with my son. I had to scramble to deliver the art before I left town which included a 2:00 am bedtime one evening. I don't enjoy the late nights and avoid them as much as possible, but sometimes the deadline just has to be met, regardless of the lack of sleep.


Brad Teare said...

It's great. Sounds like an interesting play.

scott and rachelle snow said...


Kenneth Jones said...

I love the result! Black/white, male/female, light/shadow, active/contemplative. Brilliantly captures my whole play in one image! Thank you!

Greg Newbold said...

Thanks Brad and Scott. And Ken, thanks for appreciating my work and trusting me with the artwork for your new play!