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Ekua Holmes illustrations to be featured in two new books

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Ekua Holmes illustrations to be featured in two new books
Holmes used unconventional marble painting techniques to create abstract works for this children’s science book. illustration: ekua holmes/photo: celina colby

Two new children’s books featuring illustrations by beloved Roxbury artist Ekua Holmes will be published in September. “The Stuff of Stars,” written by Marion Dane Bauer, explains the Big Bang Theory of the creation of the universe. “What Do You Do With a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan,” written by Chris Barton, tells the biographical story of black congresswoman and civil rights leader Barbara Jordan.

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The books showcase the breadth of Holmes’ talent with two radically different styles. The illustrations in “What Do You Do With a Voice Like That?” look more like Holmes’ other work — representational collages of black history in bold colors. “The Stuff of Stars” required a more abstract approach, as most of the book discusses atoms and matter. “I really struggled with it, until one day I was in my studio and I came across this little piece of marbled paper,” says Holmes. “And I thought, ‘This looks like the universe.’”

What emerged is an abstract visual storytelling based on the marble painting technique. Traditionally in marbled painting, an artist floats paint on water, treated with a chemical to keep the two liquids from combining. Then patterns are combed into the paint. For the book project, Holmes instead used nontraditional tactics, like blowing on the paint, for an even more otherworldly feel.

As the text goes on and the universe is formed, representational shapes like butterflies and horses start to appear within the abstract paintings. The book ends with two race-less marbled figured embracing. In addition to bringing science in at a young age, the story reminds children that we all come from the same place, no matter how divided the world is now.

Holmes dedicated the book to her son. “I was remembering the magic of becoming a mother, and going through pregnancy,” she says. “The birth of the universe is quite like the birth of a child.”

Illustration isn’t the only project Holmes has been working on. For the Roxbury Sunflowers Project, Holmes has distributed more than 20,000 sunflower seeds across Roxbury in an effort to bring beauty and nature to family gardens and uncared-for lots. She chose the sunflower for its powerful color and its resiliency, just like her hometown. “I think it’s an opportunity for people to honor their Roxbury roots,” she says.

On Thursday, Aug. 30 from 4 to 7 p.m., Holmes will host an event at the Grove Hall branch of the Boston Public Library. People who have planted sunflowers will share stories, and kids can create sunflowers of their own with provided art supplies. The Roxbury Sunflowers Project will culminate in a sunflower festival in October.