March 2001

Thomas (Tom) Feelings

Visual artist and illustrator

“Tom Feelings is an internationally renowned visual artist and illustrator. Of his work, he has proclaimed, “”I am a storyteller, in picture form, who tries to reflect and interpret the lives and experiences of the people who gave me life. When asked who I am, I say that I am an African who was born in America. The answer connects me spiritually with the past and the present. I, therefore, bring to my art a quality that is rooted in the culture of Africa and is expanded by the experiences of being Black in America.”” Much of his art reflects this ideal, but none does it more vividly than his 1995 masterpiece, “”The Middle Passage.”” This book’s drawings, in minute detail, depict the poignant journey of the slave ships from Africa to the Caribbean and North America. Mr. Feelings maintains that even though the illustrations show the inhumanity of the slave trade, the book is uplifting, in that African Americans survived such a devastating, historical epoch. “”The Middle Passage,”” was researched and illustrated over a period of two decades. Tom Feelings completed the book in Columbia, South Carolina, during which time he was a professor in the Department of Art at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. The son of Samuel Feelings and Anna Morris, Tom Feelings was born on May 19, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York. He started drawing when he was four years old, by copying characters from comic strips. As he grew older, he was inspired by James Thipadeaux, an African American art teacher at the neighborhood Police Athletic Academy. Thipadeaux encouraged him to create his own drawings from real life people in his neighborhood. A school assignment on Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver also spurred his interest in the artistic significance of African American history, and the seed was planted. Studying their history and drawing his people became his passion. After high school, Mr. Feelings received a three year scholarship to study at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School, in New York (1951 – 1953). Afterwards, he served with the U.S. Air Force in England. He returned to the United States and continued his education at the Visual Arts School in New York. Armed with an outstanding portfolio, he began seeking freelance work. He became a visual art storyteller by expressing the beauty, cadence, and history of his people throughout the diaspora. His creation, “”Tommy Traveler in the World of History,”” appeared for over a year in the New York Age Newspaper. Recognizing the need to become cognizant of the African experience in other segments of the globe, Feelings lived and worked in countries such as Ghana, Africa and Guyana, South America. He also traveled throughout East Africa, West Africa and the Caribbean. These experiences generated a wealth of vivid materials for his art of storytelling for children and adults alike. The African experience in the United States and elsewhere became the primary focus of his visual art. This outstanding artist has received numerous awards and honors for his visual art, and the more than two dozen books that he has published. His illustrations in books include: “”Moja Means One,”” for which he was the first African American artist to win a Caldecott Honor Award for Illustrations; and the Caldecott Honor Award for “”Jambo Means Hello,”” published in 1975. “”Something on My Mind,”” earned him a Coretta Scott King Honor Award, and “”Soul Looks Back in Wonder,”” received the Coretta Scott King Award for Children’s Literature. His art has appeared in galleries throughout the United States and is collected by worldwide followers of his work. His alma mater, the School of Visual Arts in New York City, presented him with an honorary doctorate in 1996.”