A true story of a boy and his dog
Sisters turn artist

Staff Writer

Zest A true story of a boy and his dog Sisters turn artist’s work into heartwarming tale BY GLORIA STRAVELLI Staff Writer

A true story of a boy and his dog
Sisters turn artist’s work into heartwarming tale
Staff Writer

CHRIS KELLY staff A painting by folk artist Tim Brown inspired Audrey Glassman Vernick, Ocean, and her sister to write a children’s book.CHRIS KELLY staff A painting by folk artist Tim Brown inspired Audrey Glassman Vernick, Ocean, and her sister to write a children’s book.

Once she found it on the Web, Audrey Glassman Vernick couldn’t wait to show Tim Brown’s folk art painting of his boyhood dog, Bark, to her sister, Ellen Glassman Gidaro.

"I found ‘Feeding Bark’ by Tim Brown when I was looking at outsider art on eBay. I saw this picture and it was as though we’d met before," recalled Vernick. "When I went to Ellen’s house for Christmas in 1999, I showed her this picture.

"We share a lot of sensibilities and she had the same reaction. She and I kept going back and looking at the picture. Ellen immediately said it would be a great illustration in a children’s book," said the Ocean Township resident.

Vernick lost out in the bidding for the painting by Brown, a self-taught African-American folk artist born in Mississippi in 1923, but the painting inspired the sisters to co-author a children’s picture book based on Brown’s paintings of his childhood and his warm relationship with his dog, Bark.

"We went through the folk art Web site where Brown’s work is featured and found other pictures of Bark. We realized Bark was going to be the centerpiece of the book," Vernick said. "There’s just something so timeless about ‘a boy and his dog’ story."

Their recently released book, "Bark & Tim, a True Story of Friendship," published by The Overmountain Press, features 16 paintings by Brown, now almost 80 years old, and is available in local bookstores.

Vernick and Gidaro are scheduled for book signings Nov. 18 at the Ocean Township Library on Deal Road; Dec, 5 at Fair Haven Books on River Road; and Dec. 20 at Barnes & Noble on Route 36 in West Long Branch.

Discovering the painting that inspired the book was serendipity, but getting in touch with the self-taught artist posed a challenge, Vernick said.

"We sent a letter in early 2000 saying we were so moved by his pictures and we thought children would be, too. We asked if he would consider allowing us to use his artwork in a children’s book," said Vernick, who has never spoken directly to the reclusive Brown.

"Everything goes through his agent," she said. "He was intrigued but made it clear from the start that he was more interested in terms of exposing Tim’s art."

The would-be authors were asking Brown to commit to a project they weren’t sure they could carry out, Vernick said.

"He was open to the idea of putting together a children’s book, but at that point we couldn’t guarantee publication," she said. "We were asking him not to sell the pictures we were interested in using."

Not only did they get permission to use Brown’s existing paintings, but the authors asked the artist to create some new paintings for the book in the child-like style of his folk art painting characterized as outsider art.

"That was the appeal for us," she said. "Ellen and I saw something in every picture that delighted us. There are details that would crack us up. For example, in "Chasing Mama’s Cat," the way the cat’s fur is standing up, and in the picture of Bark rolling in mud titled "Sruffy [sic] Bark" the ‘c’ is missing, and we found that charming.

"There were all these little amusing surprises in every picture, and I love how Bark looks completely different in every picture and it doesn’t matter."

According to the Web site www.worldoffolkart.com, Brown began painting as a child using his father’s house paints and has continued painting through most of his life. A self-taught artist, Brown began to focus on his art in the late 1950s, painting scenes from his childhood in the 1920s-1940s as a way to share his memories.

His paintings, done largely on plywood and found objects including wood siding and old ironing boards, are popular with collectors — more than a thousand have been sold in the United States, Asia and Europe. 

The sisters worked out a system with Brown’s agent, who they would e-mail with questions for Brown. He mailed the questions to the artist, then scanned Brown’s handwritten responses into his computer and forwarded them via e-mail.

"Tim is happy to have his work recognized in the book but didn’t want to be part of the public recognition. His initial reason for painting was to share his memories with people and he’s happy we’re doing that," explained Vernick.

The authors made a concerted effort to incorporate Brown’s recollections into the text that accompanies the paintings, which include getting Bark as a Christmas present, Bark on family outings and Bark getting a bath.

Written for children ages 5-8, the story of Bark and Tim is not without sadness; Brown’s painting of Bark’s death is included.

"We knew from the painting Bark was going to die when we began the book and we knew we had to do it right," Vernick said. "This story is about the redemptive quality of art — a man who, through his art, has kept his memories of his dog alive. It’s about loss and how the beautiful parts of a relationship can survive the unbearable loss.

"I’m very happy with how we gave them this beautiful life together," Vernick said. "Tim knew dogs didn’t live as long as people. He was sad to lose his friend but he has never stopped loving him. I think, for a 5-year-old, that’s right."

While it took only a few months during the early part of 2000 to complete "Tim and Bark," it took Vernick and Gidaro much longer to find a publisher.

"Overmountain Press was the 27th publisher I sent the book to," said Vernick.

The Overmountain Press is a family-run publisher based in Johnson City, Tenn.

"They are very unique and their criteria fit: the story has to be about the southern Appalachian region and, unlike other publishers, you had to provide your own artwork," Vernick said.

The authors had to infer some characteristics about Brown from his paintings, Vernick said.

"We had to have the confidence to say the things implied in his paintings. It was not a great leap to say he never stopped thinking about Bark. More than 60 years later, he’s still painting him.

"We didn’t want to misrepresent him. We felt a strong responsibility to get it right, but the voice came easily, and having two of us helped. When one couldn’t find it, the other would."

Simply told in words and pictures, Vernick said she believes children will connect with the timeless story and Brown’s artwork.

"This artwork is a lot like what’s on the walls of their (children’s) classrooms. It’s like the art they create," she said. "When I read it to children, I tell them, ‘Think about that. When he was your age, he had a dog and he’s still thinking about that dog 65 years later.’ "

A copy of "Tim and Bark" is on its way to Brown, Vernick said, and the authors expect he will approve of the picture book, which only furthers the mission that is at the heart of his folk paintings.

"I waited a long time for the world to see my artwork," Brown wrote in a note to the authors. "Now I hope people will look at my paintings and think about how life was for a young black child growing up in the 1920s and 1930s. It was a fun life, but also hard."