Today we mourn the passing of an American literary treasure: Harper Lee, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird.
This classic novel has inspired millions over the last five and a half decades to scrutinize their views of race, justice, and character. It has also inspired creative artists. This past October, my friend Alys Caviness-Gober and I launched an event called NICE: Noblesville Interdisciplinary Creativity Expo. We selected four classic works of literature and one specific passage from each. Artists of any medium, watercolor, poetry, textiles, glasswork, music, etc., then produced a piece inspired by our selections. Some chose to focus on the passage, some the book as a whole.
Alys and I knew almost immediately we wanted To Kill a Mockingbird in our inaugural list. In honor of Miss Lee, I’d like to share some of the artists’ work with you.
The quote we selected:
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
Artist Kelsey Bowyer describes her work:
My entry is a pen sketch done on a canvas of Atticus Finch holding his gun right before he shoots the mad dog. Atticus doesn’t see this action as heroic, and he doesn’t want his children to think this way either. This isn’t a heroic drawing of heroic man–this is a dull, ordinary moment in the life of a man with an extraordinary mind. The most courageous thing this man can do is stick up for a fellow man. And that is what makes Atticus Finch such an incredible character.
John Gilmore is a talented musician and owner of Logan Street Sanctuary. “Maple Grove” has a Southern flair to it, a bit of melancholy, a bit of mystery, and it seems to fit the mood of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Artist Jerry Dreesen talks about his piece, framed and matted acrylic on paper.
Atticus Finch told his children that to kill a mockingbird is a sin, because the mockingbird is innocent, wants only to sing, to bring joy into their lives.
And so, like the mockingbird, Tom Robinson, a “colored man” who has been accused, wrongly, of raping a white woman, defended by Atticus Finch, is an innocent man but was found guilty by a white jury.
Atticus’s children witnessed this miscarriage of justice, and had to come to terms with the reality of the times and how they felt about it then and in times to come.
The dead bird, the gavel from which blood is oozing, the path of the bullet that killed the bird are all symbols of the story.
Artist Tomas Howie says about his piece:
True courage is learning from your past…acquiring a library of tools from our experience. We don’t need to yell, we don’t need to fear, we don’t need to attack. We only need to stand in the face of evil and show our courage and resolve. Quiet, firm, undeniable steadfastness in our spirit and ideals.
How has Harper Lee inspired you?