An Illustrious Trail
Oh, the places you can go! The Dr. Seuss Museum becomes part of the Illustrators Museum Trail
Museum in Amherst is collaborating with the Norman Rockwell and Springfield (Dr. Seuss) museums to create an Iconic Illustrators Trail.
Photo: Care of Eric Carle Museum
A small man under a half-fallen tree holds up a lantern to watch fireflies. A blue peacock spreads his feathers at dusk in falling snow. An elephant hunches on a branch in the rain. Fantasy worlds, in this part of the world, come thick on the ground. And they’re about to collide.
The small world of illustrators has overlapped over the years at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, and the Dr. Seuss sculpture garden at the Springfield Museums. Then, last spring, as the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum was set to open at the Springfield Museums (in Theodore Geisel’s native city), Laura Berliner, the Rockwell’s director of visitor experience, crossed paths with Karen Fisk, PR and marketing director at the Springfield Museums, and Alexandra Kenney, director of the Eric Carle Museum, at an event in Pioneer Valley. The meeting heated an idea that had been percolating for years: Three museums dedicated to illustration within an hour’s drive of each other can work together.
After a year of collaborating, the directors launched the Iconic Illustrators Trail on November 20, laying plans for joint programming and offering a joint ticket. (The combined-ticket deal is $44 for a single person or $99 for a family pack until December 31, then the family pack will cost $120.) They have lent artwork and helped each other over the years, but the Trail will begin a more consistent collaboration, sharing resources (illustratorstrail.org) and encouraging visitors to explore the Trail between Pioneer Valley and the Berkshires.
Illustration and narrative art have been growing in recognition, says Jeremy Clowe, manager of media services at the Norman Rockwell Museum, as comic books and graphic novels continue to gain in popularity, even in a digital world, and the time is right for a partnership to take hold.
The museum has exhibited narrative artwork and illustration beyond Rockwell’s for 40 years, Clowe says. “The Illustrator’s Moment” opened in 1978 at the museum’s former location, the Old Corner House, with work from Howard Pyle, J.C. Leyendecker, Arthur Rackham, N.C. Wyeth, and Edwin Austin Abbey.
This winter, it holds a retrospective of Tony DiTerlizzi’s sprites and extraterrestrials, robots and amiable dragons. The show spans his early children’s books and illustrations for Dungeons and Dragons through his bestselling Spiderwick Chronicles with Holly Black—griffins, goblin buggies, giants, and all, some of them giving nods to Rockwell and his playful scenes—with game-playing and art-making events along the way.
DiTerlizzi is based in Pioneer Valley, Clowe says, and he champions the medium he’s working in. He is on the board of the Eric Carle and co-curated “Collecting Inspiration: Contemporary Illustrators and Their Heroes,” there through November 27, which invited contemporary artists to celebrate the artists they love.
Seeing the artwork up close amazes people with its beauty and complexity, de Montricha says. Carle and his wife, Barbara, founded the museum in 2002. They had seen picture-book museums in Japan and wanted to honor the art form in the U.S. Today, the museum has more than 200 artists and 7,300 objects in its collection. A new exhibit displays highlights from the last five years to celebrate the museums 15th anniversary: “Treasures of the Collection” opened November 19, bringing together characters—including Eloise, William Steig’s Shreck, Peter Rabbit, and Stuart Little—spilling out of crates and onto the walls. The show gathers work from Leo Lionni’s real and imagined botany to Jerry Pinkney’s vivid watercolors and Chris Van Allsberg’s magical worlds.
The Carle show covers 100 years, de Montricha says, up to Ekua Holmes and Carole Boston Weatherford’s Voice of Freedom, a 2015 Caldecott Honor Book telling the story of Fannie Lou Hamer, the civil-rights fight, and the Freedom Summer of 1964.
At the same time, opening December 12, the museum will pay tribute with “Eighty Years of Caldecott Books,” to honor the American Library Association’s annual children’s-book award, with books and artwork from the early days to the 2017 winner, Javaka Steptoe’s Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
As the Eric Carle Museum opened its doors in 2002, Theodore Geisel’s stepdaughter, Lark Grey Dimond-Cates, was creating a sculpture garden in Geisel’s home city of Springfield, with a tower of turtles, a life-size elephant, and dashing Things One and Two.
Geisel grew up across from the turrets of the Howard Street Armory. His father was Forest Park zookeeper and would bring home horns and feathers, which Geisel fashioned into imaginary creatures.
Now, children (and adults) at the new Dr. Seuss Museum can rhyme out loud or take a rest on Mr. Gump’s seven-hump wump. On the first floor, interactive exhibits explore Seuss’s books and the Springfield he knew, and the second floor looks into his life and family with drawings and sketches.
Dimond-Cates remembers seeing a boy there one morning with his father. The boy was hanging onto the sculpture, and she came closer, concerned for her work—until she heard him say, “Now I know what the cat looks like,” and she realized the boy was blind. He had wanted to get close to the Cat in the Hat, and she had brought her stepfather’s imaginary monsters close enough for him to touch.