The new traveling exhibition CHILDHOOD CLASSICS: 100 YEARS OF CHILDREN’S BOOK ILLUSTRATION is now available for circulation through 2020. The exhibition is one of the most extensive exhibitions on this subject ever organized. It recently premiered at the Carnegie Arts Center, Turlock, CA, in September 2016 and is now available for circulation beginning in January 2017.
Children’s books have always had a dual purpose: first, they are created to educate and entertain young readers – to start them off on a lifetime of reading enrichment and enjoyment; second, they are historical touchstones, reflecting and visualizing the history and the values of the era they are written in. This exhibition presents the illustrations and the illustrators that brought these stories to life.
With over 140 original works included from over 75 books, the exhibition explores the history of children’s books from the turn of the century pen and ink Mother Goose art of Sarah Noble Ives, to the most popular works of today including the digital creations of Mo Willems. The exhibition features the original art of Dr. Seuss, the iconic Wild Things of Maurice Sendak and the perennial heroism of Garth Williams’ Stuart Little. Among the many classic illustrators featured are Rosemary Wells, Richard Scarry, Chris Van Allsburg and Hilary Knight. Fondly remembered characters of literature include Babar, Eloise, Madeline, the Cat in the Hat and Dick & Jane. Extensive wall labels illuminate the works.
CHILDHOOD CLASSICS was curated by Lois Sarkisian and Lee Cohen, the co-founders of Every Picture Tells A Story – for over a quarter of a century, the innovative and influential gallery of original art from children’s books in Los Angeles, from their collection.They have written and lectured on illustration art at UCLA, Harvard University, and at schools and museums throughout North America. The exhibition was organized by Landau Traveling Exhibitions in association with Art Kandy.
In the earliest books written specifically for children a few major themes emerge and remain constant generation after generation: mind your manners, be a good citizen/neighbor/friend, and learn your ABCs. These are timeless lessons that all parents want to instill in their young ones – childhood classics, so to speak. From the 15th century until the 19th century, in most children’s books aimed to educate youngsters and mold them into upstanding adults, illustrations were relatively rare. Books for and about children always focused on providing moral instruction.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that books began to appear that stoked a child’s imagination and aimed at amusement as much as morality. Parenting began to change from perceiving children as mini-adults (with adult expectations of behavior) to cherishing innocence, encouraging play, and building imagination. It is with this shift in understanding about what children need that illustration becomes integral to the telling of stories. Illustrated editions of European fairy tales appeared at mid-century and found their way to American libraries. Many of the fantastic stories in those collections were based on oral folklore traditions that (at the core) had moral endings; but for artists seeking to capture the imagination of young readers, the heroes, heroines, and “monsters” of the stories were ripe for creative interpretation.
When illustrations work well with a story they elaborate through color and detail, and carefully integrate images with text to amplify emotions. Today, the picture book is an essential part of most children’s lives. The American authors and illustrators presented in this exhibition address issues in their works for children and teens that still resonate with those classic themes: mind your manners, be a good citizen/neighbor/friend, and learn your ABCs. Now they make those points using humor, contemporary situations, and characters that reflect the diversity of American life.