Barbara Higgins Bond
Artist | Class of 1997
Barbara Higgins Bond is a nationally recognized illustrator and commercial artist whose most important works have chronicled the history and struggles of African Americans. A pioneer freelance artist since the early 1970s, she has designed and illustrated cultural heritage stamps published by the U.S. Postal Service and the United Nations. Her art has been exhibited prominently in the U.S. and abroad.
Barbara Ann Higgins was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, on December 14, 1951, to Henry Drew Higgins and Edna Washington Higgins. She grew up in Little Rock in a home on South Park Street with three sisters and a brother. She also had three paternal half-siblings.
Influenced by her father, a creative and skilled artisan, Higgins was drawing and painting by age twelve. She was educated in the Little Rock School District, attending Carver elementary and Booker and Dunbar junior high schools. In junior high school, she won first place in a Black History art contest two years in a row. Higgins enrolled in numerous art classes taught by Lee Anthony, who remained her mentor for many years; she also participated for three years in her school’s Arts and Letters Club. Her mother encouraged her to study painting at the Arkansas Arts Center, and she graduated from historic Little Rock Central High School in 1969.
After high school, Higgins entered Phillips University, a private, co-educational institution in Enid, Oklahoma. By the end of the year, her confidence and skill as an artist had grown such that she began considering art as a career, and she decided to transfer to the Memphis College of Art in Memphis, Tennessee.
While in Memphis, she met Benny Hayes Bond, a New Jersey native and recent graduate of Tennessee State University, who was in town visiting relatives. They married on January 20, 1973.
Throughout art school, she had signed her paintings with simply “Higgins.” After she was married, she added her new surname to her signature and became known professionally as Higgins Bond.
In 1973, she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in advertising design. She and her husband moved to Teaneck, New Jersey, where he worked as a recreational therapist and she accepted a job with Stanley Arnold and Associates, a Park Avenue advertising agency in nearby New York City. They had one child, Benjamin Garnett Bond. After the birth her son, she resigned her position with the agency and began practice as a freelance artist, which allowed her to stay at home with their son.
In the 1970s, Anheuser-Busch, Inc., began sponsoring “The Great Kings and Queens of Africa” program to advance black cultural understanding and to afford African-American artists the opportunity to display their art. Twenty-three artists were commissioned to create thirty paintings that depicted noteworthy African leaders. Higgins Bond was the only artist to have three pieces in the collection: Mansa Kankan Musa, a fourteenth-century king of Mali; Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten and his wife, Queen Nefertiti; and Yaa Asantewaa, Queen of Ghana. To advertise “The Great Kings and Queens of Africa” series, Anheuser-Busch displayed her paintings in a television commercial for Roots: The Second Generation.
In 1980, Higgins Bond was commissioned by Calhoun’s Collectors Society to paint a series of collector plates titled Windows on the World. Motivated by a lifelong passion for nature and animals, she illustrated many plates featuring kittens, tropical fish, butterflies, and dogs for the Bradford Exchange, a source of limited-edition collectibles. Higgins Bond has since illustrated many plates for Hamilton Collection, a maker of limited-edition plates. Perhaps her best-known plate projects were the Treasured Days series and Songs of the American Spirit series.
Higgins Bond has exhibited at numerous museums and institutions in one-person shows and in group shows with other artists. Notable among these were exhibitions at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1974, Hunter College in 1975, and the DuSable Museum of African-American History (a Smithsonian affiliate in Chicago, Illinois) in 1977.
Higgins Bond has been acknowledged with numerous artistic awards, prizes, and honors. In 1979, she received the Certificate of Merit at the twenty-first Annual National Exhibition of the Society of Illustrators. She was recognized by the Communications Excellence to Black Audiences (CEBA) Award of Merit for her work with Black Enterprise magazine. In 2009, Higgins Bond won the Ashley Bryan Award, presented by the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, for outstanding contributions to children’s literature. In 1986, Higgins Bond was recognized by Governor Bill Clinton during the Arkansas Sesquicentennial at a ceremony honoring distinguished Arkansans.
In 1991, Higgins Bond became the first African-American woman to design and illustrate a stamp for the U.S. Postal Service. The first of her three stamp illustrations was of Jan Matzeliger, the inventor of a shoe-lasting machine that revolutionized shoe manufacturing. The next year, Higgins Bond illustrated the W. E. B. DuBois stamp commemorating the life of the historian and civil rights activist and, in 1993, followed with a stamp honoring research chemist Percy L. Julian. This Black Heritage stamp series is the longest-running commemorative series in U.S. history. In 2001, Higgins Bond illustrated four stamps for the United Nations Postal Administration on endangered species.
Benny Bond died in November 1996. Two years later, Higgins Bond moved to Nashville to be near her son, who was then attending Tennessee State University, and also to be nearer to her husband’s family.
Higgins Bond has illustrated more than forty books by authors such as Joan Banks, Mary Batten, Melvin and Gilda Berger, and Melissa Stewart. Many of the books won awards. In 1993, When I Was Little by Toyomi Igus won the Multicultural Exchange Book Award of Excellence, and 1998’s Song of La Selva: A Story of a Costa Rican Rain Forest by Joan Banks received the Parents’ Choice Approval Seal. Melissa Stewart’s A Place for Turtles earned several awards, including in 2014 the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award and the Green Earth Book Award. In 2010, Higgins Bond illustrated the thirtieth-anniversary edition of Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family for Easton Press.
During her long career, Higgins Bond has served as resident artist, teacher, and lecturer at numerous educational institutions, including the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Nossi College of Art in Nashville. Her paintings and drawings can be found in Arkansas in public collections, such as at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, and in countless private collections throughout the United States. She is a member of the National Society of Illustrators and resides and works in Nashville.