Eric Carle's illustration is some of the most distinctive and well recognized in all of children's literature. His technique - hand painted, cut and collaged tissue paper - yields bright, graphic imagery with hints of translucency. Born in 1929 and trained as a graphic artist, Carle began his professional working life in advertising, as a designer and eventually an art director in New York City - it was only in his late 30s that he was approached by an author with the prospect of illustrating his first children's book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Just two years later Carle completed (wrote and illustrated) what would become his most famous book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar; the title is now a staple in schools, libraries, and home bookshelves, and if you were born around 1970, or helped raised a child since then, it probably occupies a snuggly warm spot in your heart as well. Now in his 80s, and still making art, Carle has illustrated over 70 titles, predominantly themed after animals and natural subjects.
In 2002 Carle and his wife Barbara opened The Eric Carl Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. The first of it's kind in the US, the museum is sleek and modern, but clearly designed to engage young visitors and families with the same degree of wonderment and inspiration as Carle's beloved books. The spacious interior contains three softly lit galleries for rotating collections of artwork, a sizable library of picture books for reading and storytelling, a well stocked art/project studio for hands-on activities, an auditorium for performances and lectures, a full cafe, and a rather amazing gift/book shop. Amherst is a bit off the beaten path for most, but the reward of an afternoon spent immersed in rarely exhibited original art is well worth the trek.
On exhibit this spring is a simply gorgeous collection of work from legendary Italian artist Antonio Frasconi. Frasconi was born in Argentina in 1919, raised in Uruguay, and moved to the US in 1945. Working in woodcuts, Frasconi is well known for his powerful, often politically inspired, book and magazine illustration, but he also generated a wealth of innovative work geared toward children, heavily inspired by the birth of his two sons, Pablo and Miguel. Among the items on display in this exhibition are elegant alphabet books, intricately cast plaster blocks, and original artwork from a few of Frasconi's best loved children's books. The ease with which Frasconi transfered his passionate art-making from intensely serious adult subjects to playful, thought provoking children's themes speaks volumes about the quality of his work, and the dedication of his character as an artist: there's no question about which projects he throws his heart and soul into - they simply permeate everything he makes. Go see this exhibit if you can, it's a winner.
Top image: a montage of animal characters from Eric Carle's Animal Flash Cards, and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Bottom images: all three Frasconi prints for sale here - clockwise from top: cover artwork from Bestiary, poems by Pablo Neruda, illustrated by Antonio Frasconi; Moon Bird, from Bestiary; The Dog and the Crocodile, published by the Print Club of Cleveland.