The Illustration Friday word of the week is diary. I have never been a girl who kept one of those mysterious, locked tomes called diaries. And as much as I am fascinated by dreams, I rarely write them down. I do think about things a lot, but the writing down seems, um, too slow… ? So it was with great surprise that I recently realized that this creature called My Blog has taken on a life of its own, becoming a repository for thoughts and impressions… not just a place to post an image, as first intended. And I am surprised that I am enjoying it… not so different from a diary, really.
“Me and My Blog” (watercolor, pen and ink)
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Last week I wrote about my impending trip to The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art for the Lisbeth Zwerger exhibition. This 40,000 square-foot museum “is the first full-scale museum in this country devoted to national and international picture book art, conceived and built with the aim of celebrating the art that we are first exposed to as children.” Now that I am on the other side of my four-day, whirlwind cross-country visit, I can hardly believe it happened… Like a dream, it was wonderful and over all-too-soon…
The Museum sits in the middle of the lush New England countryside, quietly echoing large traditional barns and silos with its contemporary architecture which is also reminiscent of Eric Carle’s illustration… bold, balanced, inviting, simple yet monumental. Beautiful stone paving leads to heavy plate-glass doors opening onto the wide, light and airy Great Hall from which the large Auditorium, Art Studio, Shop, Library, Cafe and three galleries branch off. During the Members event on opening night, a grand piano in the Great Hall entertained browsing guests who sipped wine and nibbled appetizers. The Hall is also where a very long line of admirers stood patiently waiting to have their book(s) signed by Lisbeth.
It would be hard to say too many nice things about the Museum… it is an inspired, well-planned and holistic peek into the world of the picture book. From the extensive Library where children of all ages can browse published books in a cosy setting… to the well-stocked Shop which specializes in award-winning picture books, as well as cards and wonderful gift items… to the Cafe with its healthy snacks (Animal Crackers!!) and friendly welcome to guests who bring their own picnics… to the Auditorium which hosts prominent guest speakers, films, and performances of various sorts all related to the picture book… and finally to the three gorgeous galleries themselves.
The galleries are surely the heart of the Eric Carle Museum… one could easily imagine oneself to be in a wing of the Metropolitan. The work is beautifully matted, framed and hung, the lights are kept low to protect the longevity of the artwork, and there is plenty of information given about each illustration, including copies of the artists’ published books to browse through. The three galleries rotate shows featuring the Museum’s own collection of Eric Carle’s prolific and endearing work, as well as the works of other notable artists (Leo Leoni‘s illustration for his book, Geraldine, the Music Mouse is on view in The Central Gallery.). An Exquisite Vision: the Art of Lisbeth Zwerger will be showing in The East Gallery until September 26th, 2010. Photographs are not allowed within the galleries to protect the illustrations, but below is a view from the lobby looking through glass doors to the gallery entrances and a view of the West Gallery from the Museum’s website.
Viewing Lisbeth’s exhibition, I was reminded of another artist’s comment recalling the first time she saw Lisbeth’s illustration years ago: “I think I stopped breathing for a moment.” It was much the same experience, walking into a gallery where approximately eighty-five original watercolor paintings hung one after another in their overwhelming, delicate and masterful glory. The paintings themselves spanned the full range of Lisbeth’s illustration career… from early, unpublished work to several from her newest book, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, (available in English from Amazon.com in October, unless you happened to be one of the lucky few who got one this last weekend at the exhibit). The paintings selected by Lisbeth and the Museum’s Curator represent virtually all of her thirty-plus books in print, and although there has been a definite shift in style, Lisbeth’s brilliant illustrative approach and virtuoso technique is consistently apparent throughout. It is hard not to be slack-jawed with awe.
But Lisbeth herself, who was applauded with great admiration before and after speaking at length both days about her illustration and career, is warm and down-to-earth. She is clearly very serious about her work, but has a sense of humor, sophistication and witticism in person that echos her approach to illustration. While I am on the subject of friendly, I would like to say that all of the folks from The Eric Carle Museum that I have had the pleasure to interact with have been so very nice, really far beyond a basic good public interaction… Sandy, Jenny, Rebecca, Motoko, Nick… you know who you are…
Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the surprise announcement made by Zwerger’s publisher, Michael Neugebauer (Minedition). Keeping just a few favorites, he will donate his large personal collection of Lisbeth Zwerger originals to the Museum. Having just flown in from the printer in China with a suitcase full of hot-off-the-press exhibition catalogs and Pied Pipers, he looked tired but pleased to be offering his magnanimous gift.
Several hundred people came Saturday evening and again on Sunday to hear Lisbeth speak.The Member’s evening was also attended by a number of well-known names in the children’s literature world… among them were Etienne Delessert (who will have an exhibition at the Museum next year, February 8 – June 5, 2011), Leonard S. Marcus, Maria Tatar, and Jerry Pinkney. On Sunday, I also had the pleasure of meeting illustrator Barbara Lehman.
Reading the new exhibition catalog, “Lisbeth Zwerger: The World of Imagination,” which has many more words about Lisbeth’s long career than did the first catalog, The Art of Lisbeth Zwerger, it would be tempting to think that her steady rise to fame has been all luck and synchronicity. But seeing so many of her beautiful originals, and being a watercolor painter myself, I know that the work of any illustrator always comes back to the moment-by-moment dance and hard work between the artist, the story, the materials and the artist’s vision. When all of this is done well, anything else is just well-deserved gravy over the artist’s simple desire to do her personal best… and “to please herself,” as Lisbeth says. Lisbeth, my dear, I am passing you the gravy boat…
All in all, I am so happy (and fortunate) to have traveled from California to Massachusetts for this exhibition. I came home very full. Every time I think of the beautiful, lush New England countryside and Lisbeth’s exceptional art, I will remember (with a smile) Lisbeth’s note in The Wizard of Oz, “…green is my favorite color…”
It’s time for the quiz!
Question: Where can you see a bunny hopping by green, green hedges next to a world-class contemporary art museum, make some fun art, purchase award-winning picture books, get a tatoo of “The Hungry Caterpillar,” eat Animal Crackers, meet well-known illustrators, and see beautiful, delightful and memorable original children’s book illustration… all in one day?