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November Issue 2003

USC McKissick Museum in Columbia, SC, Honors Artist Tom Feelings with Memorial Exhibit

The late Tom Feelings, whose drawings in his book, Middle Passage, have given millions of people a glimpse into the horrific tans-Atlantic journey that brought slaves to the Americas, will be honored with an exhibit on his life and work at the University of South Carolina's McKissick Museum in Columbia, SC, on display through Dec. 21, 2003.

Feelings died Aug. 25, 2003, at age 70. He was a retired USC art department faculty member who taught at USC from 1988 - 1996 and a nationally known artist and book illustrator whose images captured the African-American experience.

The USC exhibit features photographs from The Middle Passage. Released in Oct. 1995, the book was Feelings' first adult book and features 50 powerful and dramatic images.

Using black-and-white illustrations with cool-blue and warm-brown tones, Feelings blended abstract and realistic images in The Middle Passage, which make the viewer feel as if they are aboard a slave trading ship. The illustrations evoke the feeling of the suffering and desperation felt by the captive people who were force-fed, beaten and chained in small, cramped spaces in the hulls of ships.

"I want my illustrations to reach people on a personal level - drawing them into the story and allowing them to feel the pain of the slaves and learn what happened to us on the ships," said Feelings in a USC interview in 1995.

The Middle Passage is not only Feelings' personal odyssey; it is his legacy.

Feelings says that creating The Middle Passage was time intensive, as he reworked each illustration five or six times until he created just the right mood.

For more than 25 years Feelings created award-winning books for children and young adults. Among his 20 books is the Swahili counting book Moja Means One, as well as Jambo Means Hello, Something on My Mind, Daydreamers, Now Sheba Sings the Song and Soul Looks Back in Wonder. His honors include two Coretta Scott King Awards by the American Library Association and two Caldecott winners.

Although his children's books included poetry and narrative by writers such as Julius Lester, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes and Niki Grimes, Feelings' The Middle Passage did not. He said he wanted The Middle Passage "to be an emotional journey interpreted differently by each reader - I didn't want them to be inhibited by the written word."

Feelings added, "It is my hope that the book will prompt family and community discussion."

The exhibit, which was organized by and first displayed at McKissick Museum, is the same one that will be on display at USC this fall.

I See Your Face a collaboration between Feelings and USC English professor Kwame Dawes, will be released next year.

For more info check our SC Institutional Gallery listings, call 803/777-7251 or visit the website at (www.cla.sc.edu/MCKS). Additional information on Feelings and The Middle Passage is available at the website (www.tomfeelings.com).

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