The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

Back in September (oh eight), I attended the Eric Carle Benefit Dinner, where the famed children’s book author and illustrator raised money for his Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts. This was my first rather large publishing event. Being only a few tables away from Mr. Carle and very nearly introducing myself to The Polar Express author Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Very Hungry Caterpillar Thank-You Cards and Invitations, a Very Hungry Caterpillar Drawing Pad and a great poster from the Kendra and Allan Daniel Collection of Children’s Illustration of Alice in Wonderland characters from the July-October exhibit.

The poster has since been hanging above my desk at work and I’ve been staring at it, longingly staring at it, for months.

In the immortal words of Tina Fey’s daughter – “I want to go to there.”

In January, I mentioned wanting to go see The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.
Two months later he said, “I want to get out of New York. Do you want to go see that museum?”
He being a guy I should probably keep around, even if just for remembering how badly I wanted to go to there.

So April 24th, we went to there. Okay, enough of that.

Happy 40th, Very Hungry Caterpillar
First envisioned as A Week with Willie the Worm, the first gallery we entered was a complete homage to the work of Eric Carle and most specifically – The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Thankfully for us readers, his (agent?) suggested using a caterpillar rather than a worm for the book. To which he exclaimed, “Butterfly!”

That’s it.
One word.

You should now need no explanation for why I love this genius of a children’s book author.

In the gallery:
– Original spreads from A Week with Willie the Worm, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and 10 Little Rubber Ducks.
– A wonderful self-portrait of Eric Carle and the Very Hungry Caterpillar, buddying it up.
– A wall-o-Eric Carle with photographs of his childhood, his wife, Bill Martin and including a video telling the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. My favorite photograph on this wall was one of Mr. Carle in his studio, holding a paintbrush, and using his left arm to clean his brush! The picture to the right isn’t the one from the museum, but you can see his messy arm!
– Butterflies contributed by various famous illustrators, including a lovely, lovely original from Arnold Lobel’s Frog reaching out towards a pretty butterfly.

Preview the exhibit here.

Virginia Lee Burton
I’m completely passing over the exhibit in the middle room with original spreads from Lottie’s New Friend, donated by author and illustrator Petra Mathers. It wasn’t that it wasn’t gorgeous, or that I didn’t spend a really long time moving from spread to spread – but I don’t really know Lottie. I don’t really know Petra Mathers. At all. And I came for Eric Carle and for Virginia Lee Burton. So. I’m sorry.

The Little House has always been my favorite picture book. It was trumped at one point by The Jolly Postman, but this obsession came solely from the fact that the book was impossible to come by at my elementary school library. And I just… wanted… to… touch… it! I was seven. Forgive me. But, The Little House was beautiful, and the sad little house captured my little heart.

Author and illustrator of The Little House, Choo Choo, and Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel and many others, Virginia Lee Burton was celebrated for her simple, yet extremely complex line art which perfectly depicted the growth of urbanization. The Little House, for example, is about a little pink country house sitting atop a hill. As the book progresses, the city grows and suddenly the house, with its peeling paint and boarded up windows, looks sad and small next to two new skyscrapers.

Amazing was how much she could accomplish, how much she could express, in just a few strokes. Her drawings are not complex, yet they somehow depict movement and emotion perfectly. The VLB gallery also included a print by Norman Rockwell. Compared to Virginia’s Gossip print, you can clearly see her genius. Though simpler, both works convey the same message and invoke the same feelings.

In the gallery:
– Original art from The Little House; Choo Choo; Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel; Katy and the Big Snow; Calico, the Wonder Horse; The Emperor’s New Clothes; Life Story; The Song of Robin Hood and others.
– Photographs from Virginia Lee Burton’s life. What a beautiful, amazing woman!
– Designs from her Folly Cove Designers, a group that Virginia founded herself in Massachusetts. They became famous for their linoleum prints on cloth. At first, they created prints for their own homes – table cloths, curtains, etc. But soon, everyone was clamoring for their prints. Gossips (above) is one of those prints. Sentimental (below) was probably my favorite viewing of the entire day.
Preview the exhibit here.
Though I didn’t partake in these other fun literature related activities, Amherst and the surrounding areas seem to be very lit friendly. Plan your own literary themed weekend!

Dr. Seuss Garden in Springfield.
Emily Dickinson Museumin Amherst.

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