Meet the Author
A Conversation between Piedmont Laureate Kelly Starling-Lyons and author/illustrator Don Tate
October 19, 2021, 6pm
Join children’s book author Kelly Starling-Lyons, this year’s Piedmont Laureate, in conversation with Don Tate, October 19, 19, 6 PM . Mr. Tate is the award-winning author and illustrator of a new picture book about Durham native son, Ernie Barnes, called Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes. The interview will be on the Durham County Library zoom and available on the DCL Youtube channel for one week following the interview. Sponsored by the Durham County Library and the Durham Arts Council.
A young, anxious, Ernest Barnes looks on as other boys play a game of basketball. Barnes grew up on Willard Street in a neighborhood called ‘The Bottom,’ a section of Durham, NC. Bullied for being shy, overweight, and uninterested in sports like boys were “supposed” to be, he instead took refuge in his sketchbook.
Ernest Barnes father, Ernest Eugene Barnes Sr., was a shipping clerk at a tobacco company in Durham. His mother, Fannie Mae Geer, worked as a domestic for Frank L. Fuller, Jr.a wealthy attorney who loved art and classical music. On the days when Ernest accompanied his mother to work, he studied the art books in Fuller’s study, learning about artists like Toulouse-Lautrec, Delacroix, and Michelangelo.
In grade school, Ernest felt the pressure to play sports. In middle school, he finally gave in and played football. But he had trouble keeping up and lagged behind other players. After taunts from his coach, he quit the team. In high school, Barnes instructed his mom to “just say no” should any coaches come snooping around. But the coach came, made a donation to her church missionary fund, and over a prayer and a plate of fried chicken, Ernest became number seventy-three on the Hillside Hornets.
Ernest went to North Carolina College on a football scholarship. He played football, but also focused on art. After college, Ernest (who now went by Ernie after a misprint of his name in a newspaper) played for several professional football teams, including the Baltimore Colts (he was cut, not making it through training camp), the New York Titans, and the San Diego Chargers. But he never gave up art. During timeouts, he was known to scribble notes of what he’d seen on the field. He’d use his notes later as inspiration for paintings. Sometimes, he was even fined for taking notes!
After five seasons of football, Ernie retired from the sport and began a successful art career–starting with being hired as an artist by the owner of the New York Jets. Here, he exhibits at Grand Central Art Galleries in Manhattan. His career churned full circle when he later exhibited at the North Carolina Museum of Art.