Ralph Fasanella painted the power of the union

Book image by illustrator Victoria Tentler-Krylov. | courtesy Holiday House Publishing


Portland author Anne Broyles last month published a new picture book to introduce children to the labor movement. “I’m Gonna Paint” tells the story of Italian American painter Ralph Fasanella, who painted large, mural-like images depicting working class people and social movements of the early 1900s.

One of Fasanella’s best known pieces is a 45-by-90-inch oil painting  called “Lawrence 1912: The Bread and Roses Strike.” It recreates scenes from the nine-week strike at the Everett textile mill in Lawrence, Massachusetts, an event Fasanella’s mother told her children about at the dinner table. The strike — one of the most significant struggles in U.S. labor history — spurred wage hikes and overtime pay for 275,000 workers in textile factories across New England.

Broyles first learned about Fasanella on a 2014 assignment for a travel magazine covering an exhibition of his work at the Lawrence Heritage Center. His art amazed her, and his life story captured her imagination. At age 10, Fasanella was arrested for peddling stolen goods and spent the next four years in a reformatory school away from his parents.

Broyles said she didn’t know much about union history before writing the book. But inspired by Fasanella’s paintings, she walked the picket line with Portland teachers and tried to explain to friends how unions benefit everyone.

“He said, ‘I didn’t paint them to hang in a rich man’s living room. I want them for the common people,’” Broyles said. “He really thought they were going to hang in union halls. And that’s what he wanted: to inspire workers.”

She hopes her book helps children understand when their parents talk about unions or they hear about strikes on the news.

MEET THE AUTHOR Anne Broyles invites readers to attend two book release events in Portland. At 2 p.m. Dec. 10, she will be at Green Bean Books (1600 NE Alberta St.) for a book release aimed at children. At 7 p.m. Jan. 11, she will speak with writer Liz Rusch about social activism in children’s literature at Annie Bloom’s Books (7834 SW Capitol Hwy.).  Broyles also welcomes invitations to speak for small groups, including unions. Contact her through her website AnneBroyles.com.

BUY THE BOOK  Broyle’s book is available at independent bookstores in the Portland metro area, including Powell’s Books (powells.com), where workers are represented by ILWU Local 5.

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