Last Tuesday was the big day! My husband and I made our pilgrimage to The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. The mission of the museum is to inspire a love of art and reading through picture books. It definitely fulfills this mission! Presently, there are three exhibits on display – Robert McCloskey, Louis Darling, the illustrator of the early Beverly Cleary books, and the new one titled, Eric Carle Through the Years. I had so much fun seeking out the hidden letters and names in the Eric Carle works, reading the correspondence between Louis Darling and Beverly Cleary, and seeing the original sketches for many of Robert McCloskey’s books. We ended our visit by visiting the picture book library and meeting and chatting with the librarian, Mrs. Betty Matthews. This cozy library, where families may take a break and browse through the more than 3000 picture books in the collection, is also the location of story times throughout each week. As we left, I whispered to Mrs. Matthews that I think she has an amazing job and she agreed!
Americana on Parade: The Art of Robert Mccloskey
The first exhibit in our pilgrmage to the Eric Carle Museum included many of Mr. McCloskey’s original sketches for Blueberries for Sal, Bert Dow and One Morning in Maine, as well as background information about the stories. In 1946 Robert McCloskey purchased a home on Deer Isle, Maine, and summered there annually with his family. Out of his experiences in Maine, came four books, Blueberries for Sal (1948), a Caldecott Honor Book, One Morning in Maine (1952), another Caldecott Honor book, Time of Wonder (1957) and Burt Dow Deep-Water Man (1963). Time of Wonder received the Caldecott award, his second.
This brings me to another fact that I learned about Robert McCloskey. He began as an artist with paintings similar to Thomas Hart Benton and Edward Hopper. Unfortunately, although his paintings won many awards in New York City, he was not able to achieve financial success. He only sold a few water colors and none of his oil paintings. He then realized that perhaps the best choice would be to write and illustrate picture books. It took him three years to develop a draft of his first book, Lentil, which was published in 1940 and proved to be very popular with children everywhere. Two years later, he wrote Make Way For Ducklings, his first book to be awarded the Caldecott Award. While writing that story, in order to make certain that his ducklings were authentic looking, he kept six southern mallards in his Boston apartment for two weeks. He crawled around his studio and sketched them as they waddled about and even put them into his bathtub to learn about their swimming movements! He then explored the parks, rivers and ponds of Boston to make his sketches of the settings of the story. All of his work paid off, since more than two million copies of this book have been sold and it is still loved today over seventy years later!
Finally, I was fascinated to see the original miniature sculpture of the ducklings which is now in The Public Garden in Boston. I’ve visited there many times, and enjoyed seeing the sculptures, but I didn’t know the story behind the work.
The sculpture was created by internationally-acclaimed artist, Nancy Schon, in 1986. However, Robert McCloskey was a very private man and was reluctant to commercialize any of his work. Therefore, he was not a supporter of the statue. In fact, after visiting Ms. Schon’s studio and seeing the final sculpture, he was even more reluctant to give his permission. He felt it was much too large. However, after it’s installation in Boston’s Public Garden, he gave his blessing and approval to Ms. Schon. The sculpture has become one of the most beloved landmarks in Boston.
I had another interesting experience concerning the sculpture a few years ago, when one of my nieces was attending graduate school in Boston. She frequently passed by the sculpture as she made her way around the city. Later that year, she studied in Moscow for one semester, and was very surprised to find a replica in a park she was visiting with friends! After some research, she learned that First Lady Barbara Bush had given the sculpture to the children of the Soviet Union. It was “given in love and friendship to the children of the Soviet Union on behalf of the children of the United States.” I find this very touching that Robert McCloskey’s work continues to spread joy and love on the other side of the world.
The Art of Eric Carle: Hide and Seek
Eric Carle has written over seventy picture books during his fifty year career. The surprising thing is that he has hidden names and letters in many of these books. These are the first letters of his son’s first names, R and C, as well has the names of many friends and family. In this exhibit, many of Eric Carle’s original work is displayed with a flip card next to each one where you can check your answer.
I was also fascinated to see a display of Mr. Carle’s paints and tissue paper that he uses to make the collages in his books. He cuts and layers the shapes to create the images in his stories. Children are often inspired to create their own stories by using the collage technique. Eric Carle considers this to be the ultimate compliment. Children who visit the museum Art Studio, where the goal is to encourage visitors of all ages to make, appreciate and think about art, have the opportunity to make their own creations with tissue paper shapes, or to participate in a new art activity each week. You can follow the Art Studio on their blog, where you might get some ideas for your own art activities!
The paints and tissue paper that Eric Carle uses to make the collages to create the images in his books.
Louis Darling: Drawing the Words of Beverly Cleary
The last exhibit displayed the illustrations by Louis Darling for Beverly Cleary’s early books, as well as correspondence between the author and illustrator. Louis Darling was assigned by Beverly Cleary’s publisher in 1950 to illustrate her books, which he did for the next 20 years. I saw so many amazing sketches, which was really fun, but I most enjoyed reading the quotes from Beverly Cleary concerning the illustrations, as well as reading the letters the two exchanged.
Louis Darling’s last illustration for one of Beverly Cleary’s books was made shortly before his death in 1970. Over the years, their friendship, and the admiration for one another, had grown and was valued by both the author and the illustrator. Beverly Cleary was very saddened by Louis Darling’s untimely illness and ultimate death. In tribute to the illustrator, Ms. Cleary dedicated Runaway Ralph to him.
It was an amazing visit and I highly recommend it if you are in the area (or even if you’re not!!). In fact, as I look through the description of activities, plays, lectures and author visits, which are offered each year, I so wish that I lived close by! The people of Amherst are very fortunate to have this highly regarded museum in their hometown!