Posts Tagged ‘trip to Massachusetts’

c. Susan Sorrell Hill

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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The Very Hungry Caterpillar

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…

Lisbeth signs my books.

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.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

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 Art Studio

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.

Entrance to the gallery wings.

The West Gallery

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.

The Museum's Curator, Lisbeth Zwerger and her publisher, Michael Neugebauer... Arthur Rackham on the screen.

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…

Me & Lisbeth at the Eric Carle Museum

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?

Answer: The Eric Carle Museum Picture Book of Art in Amherst, Massachusetts. For a wonderful Virtual Tour of the Museum, click here.

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c. 1980 Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is giant.

In 1979, I was an art student at Humboldt State University (Arcata, California), majoring in graphic design and printmaking. Being a college town, Arcata was full of not only great restaurants and cafes, but also one of my favorite things: used book stores. One foggy day, I chanced upon a used copy of Cricket Magazine, featuring the work of the Austrian picture book illustrator, Lisbeth Zwerger. I was awstruck… and suddenly realized that I, too, saw the world through an illustrator’s eyes.

Shortly after, I put together a small portfolio and made the ‘inquiry letter’ image that you see above. I must have sent out a dozen or so inquiries, all containing this hand-painted xerox. As is typical in the publishing world, most of my inquiries came to nothing, but there were a few kind editors who replied with encouraging words, watering the seed of my dream of being an illustrator of books.

I am not sure what happened, but suffice to say that Life swept me away from that dream (with work, relationships, home, garden, and other forms of art), and it has been only in the last several years (which are now almost thirty years later) that I realize that the seed planted by seeing Lisbeth Zwerger’s work is still alive and well… and is ready to come to fruit now. I could, of course, look back at the intervening thirty years and think that I had wasted by time, but it is very clear to me that all of the ‘water under my bridge’ has lead directly to the timing of this fruition. Life is funny, isn’t it?

So it was with great joy that I recently received a small loan from friends to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts next weekend (which just by itself is an amazing place) to see the exhibition “An Exquisite Vision: the Art of Lisbeth Zwerger.” Lisbeth herself will open the exhibition with a talk and slideshow, and I will finally have the opportunity to see quite a lot of her paintings in their original form.

For any of you who might be tempted to attend this exhibit too, the show itself runs from June 29 – September 26, 2010, and Lisbeth’s public appearance will be on July 11, 2010. More specific information can be found on the museum’s own website, including a short preview of the exhibition. The museum’s announcement reads:

The Wizard of Oz, illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

“Lisbeth Zwerger is one of the foremost illustrators working today. In 1990, at the age of thirty-six, she received the Hans Christian Andersen medal—the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for children’s literature. Her range of subject is remarkable, encompassing the Brothers Grimm, O. Henry, Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, and L. Frank Baum to name a few. Her artistic vision is informed by watercolors executed with a deftness and delicacy that nevertheless possess an assurance and substance.”

c. Susan Sorrell Hill

Which finally brings me back to the Illustration Friday word of the week: giant. “It is with glad heart and a bright eye” (a line from one of my favorite movies, Kate & Leopold) that I wish to assure myself and my readers, “There really is a God (or something else that is giant) that watches over us and fulfills dreams, no matter how long it takes…

“Karma” (watercolor, pen and ink)

Art at the top of this post: “Asking the Giant” (xerox of pen and ink drawing with colored inks)

See you next week with a post about my adventure at The Eric Carle Museum!

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