“Make Way for Ducklings” Turns 75

02. Drawing for Make Way for Duckings (Look out! squawked Mrs. Mallard, all of a dither. You'll get run over!).jpg

Drawing for Make Way for Ducklings (“‘Look out!’ squawked Mrs. Mallard, all of a dither...”) by Robert McCloskey, 1941. Reproduced with permission from MFA Boston.                                                                                                                                                                                               

1941 proved to be a banner year for picture-book creators; Margret and H. A. Rey’s Curious George was published by Houghton Mifflin, and Viking Press presented Robert McCloskey’s second book, Make Way for Ducklings. Though neither the Reys nor McCloskey were natives of Massachusetts, both authors and their books are now forever bound with the Commonwealth. (Massachusetts designated Make Way for Ducklings its official children’s book in 2003. Michigan is the only other state to have such an honor.)


2016 marks 75 years that both books have delighted readers of all ages. Houghton Mifflin celebrated Curious George’s milestone birthday on September 17 with an event dedicated to discovery dubbed “Curiosity Day.” The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) is currently hosting an examination of McCloskey’s work in a retrospective entitled, appropriately, “Make Way for Ducklings: The Art of Robert McCloskey.”


Organized in cooperation with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, the show presents over 50 works on paper, mostly on loan from the May Massee Collection at Emporia State University in Kansas. (May Massee was a children’s book editor at Viking whose roster of award-winning authors and illustrators included Ludwig Bemelmans, Robert Lawson, Munro Leaf, and McCloskey, among many others.)

                                                                                                                                                                                       

05. Drawing for Make Way for Ducklings.jpg

Drawing for Make Way for Ducklings. Reproduced with permission from the MFA, Boston.           

                                                                                                                                                                                                                             The show highlights preliminary drawings for Ducklings and final illustrations for McCloskey’s other books such as Lentil (1940) and Centerburg Tales (1951). (Wouldn’t the top sketch “Look Out” make a great illustrated envelope? Just a thought.) There’s also a set of miniature bronze models created for Nancy Schön’s now-iconic oversize sculptures of Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings that have welcomed adoring children in the Boston Public Garden since 1987. The exhibition also explores McCloskey’s artistic process and inspiration, and also explains why the book was printed in brown ink; though McCloskey had hoped to illustrate using watercolors, full-color printing was expensive in 1941, as America had just entered World War II. The book would have to be printed in monotone brown, so McCloskey drew the images backwards onto zinc lithographic plates, which saved money on printing by skipping offsetting altogether.


Duck prints lead showgoers throughout the exhibit, and there’s plenty of bench space and a selection of the two-time Caldecott Medal winner’s books available for quiet browsing.


Make Way for Ducklings: The Art of Robert McCloskey is on view at the MFA Boston now through June 18, 2017. Admission is free for children under 7, and free to all on Wednesdays after 4 p.m. (Museum entry is free for MFA members and $25 for non-members.) For more information visit http://www.mfa.org

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