‘Juneteenth’ and Julian


This week’s City Pulse cover artist, Julian Van Dyke, has deep roots in Lansing. Since his early days in Old Town studios in the 1980s, his art has sprung up like colorful blossoms all around town — at the downtown library, music festivals, on walls, in galleries and, most recently, in a series of lively coloring and activity books for young people. As a volunteer member of Lansing’s Juneteenth committee, Van Dyke designed the event’s logo in his trademark up-with-people, coloring-book style.

Van Dyke has produced a growing body of work an author, illustrator, poster artist, muralist and even a theater actor, all while spending 20 years as a UPS driver to help support a family of four. His work exudes a positive vibe, but his coloring and activity books don’t shy from tough issues like bullying, the legacy of slavery and the fragility of the natural world. 

“Now you have certain districts trying to take information out of the history books, and it’s very hurtful,” he said. “Education has never been more important.”

Introducing the story of Juneteenth, with its tragic and violent roots, to children, meant making some difficult choices. Van Dyke decided to leave the “hard core” images, such as lynching and whipping, out of a story meant for kids in third grade and under.

“The story has to be told, but you don’t give graphic images to kindergarteners,” he said. “They’ll find out.”

“Juneteenth: Celebrating Freedom” begins with a brief history of the holiday, going back to pre-slavery African life, but most of the book showcases the fun and activities common to Juneteenth celebrations across the nation: parades, baseball, music, barbecues and the cakewalk, a dance with a bittersweet history originating in the time of slavery days.

“Juneteenth” is available at Absolute Gallery in Old Town, on Van Dyke’s web site and at local bookstores.


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