Monday, September 21, 2009
In July, during my annual pilgrimage to my beloved Massachusetts, I had the opportunity to visit The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst. I had heard many good things about it and being a picture book writer myself, I was in a hurry to see what it was all about. Add to the fact that THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR was an early favorite of both my children and wild horses couldn’t keep me away. From my little hometown of Ware, the trip to the museum was a short 20 minute drive through the country with a quick stop at Atkins Farm for bakery delights afterward.
The Eric Carle Museum is built on property once owned by Hampshire College. Although it looks like the museum may be part of the campus, it is not. Founded by Eric Carle and his wife Barbara, the museum’s location was chosen due to the proximity of the area where the couple made their home for nearly thirty years. It is the first full-scale museum in this country devoted to picture book art.
We arrived just in time for my two-year-old to participate in Story Time which was being held in the museum’s wonderful library. Of course, my shy little dickens pushed her way through the crowd to sit cross-legged in front of the presenter where she immediately got involved in the interaction, then clapped wholeheartedly when a guitar suddenly appeared.
Afterward, we scurried to the exhibit halls where we were delighted by the magnificent art of Tomie DePaola (DRAWINGS FROM THE HEART: TOMIE DEPAOLA TURNS 75, July 3-Nov. 1, 2009) and Ernest Shepard who illustrated the classic Pooh books written by A. A. Milne (THE WORLD OF POOH: SELECTIONS FROM THE PENGUIN YOUNG READERS GROUP COLLECTION, May 15-Nov. 1, 2009) But by far, our favorite was 80/40: CELEBRATING THE BIRTHDAYS OF ERIC CARLE AND THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR. (Feb. 10-Aug. 30, 2009) Even my little one was enthralled with the early renderings of this famous and well loved book. Did you know the original draft was called, “A Week with Willi the Worm”? It was Mr. Carle’s editor who suggested he change it to a caterpillar and the book evolved from there to sell more than twenty-nine million copies!
Our next stop was to the Art Studio where our little group sat at a table and was given paper, brushes and paints to create our own water color masterpieces. Inspired by the prior exhibit I painted a lovely butterfly while my daughter designed her own Picasso. Apparently the activities and materials in the studio change regularly and are inspired by the present exhibitions. It was a difficult task to remove my child from the studio and after prying the paint brush out of her hand I managed to usher her into the gift shop on a bribe that I would buy her her own set of museum paints. Needless to say, I did so and also splurged on a few of my favorite classic picture books as well: THE LITTLE HOUSE, MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL, and MAYBELLE THE CABLE CAR all by Virginia Lee Burton, as well as THE STORY OF FERDINAND by Munro Leaf.
All in all, I found the Eric Carle Museum to be a refreshing and enlightening place for a struggling picture book writer such as myself to spend an afternoon. If I still lived in the area I would absolutely take part in the many events and activities offered there on a continual basis. From ‘MEET THE ILLUSTRATOR’ activities to workshops and classes, this is the perfect stop for anyone interested in being part of the picture book industry or those who are simply in love with the craft. But be forewarned, unless you are partial to picture books, are a devoted fan, and delight in this genre, you may not find yourself duly entertained. In fact, although my daughter and I had a most enjoyable time, my comrade and her nine year old remained uninspired. In fact, I think I may have heard the word “boring” used once or twice. Suffice it to say, I could see their point. This isn’t a fun-filled, interactive museum and for those who are non-bookish folk there could be a problem maintaining interest. But like everything else, what appeals to some, may not appeal to others. As for me, I give the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art five very big thumbs up and highly recommend it to all my like-minded colleagues. Go check it out!