"Americana on Parade: The Art of Robert McCloskey" Opens June 19 at the Eric Carle Museum
Amherst, MA- The work of Robert McCloskey, the writer and illustrator whose classic children’s books captivated generations, will be featured in Americana on Parade: The Art of Robert McCloskey this summer at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. In celebration of the 75th anniversary of McCloskey’s most famous and enduring tale, Make Way for Ducklings (1941), The Carle’s retrospective will include much of the original art from this beloved book.
The recipient of two Caldecott Medals and three Caldecott Honors, McCloskey was a major force in twentieth-century children’s literature, despite working on less than 20 titles during his lifetime. He wrote and illustrated eight books of his own and illustrated 10 stories by other authors—including Journey Cake, Ho! (1953), written by his mother-in-law Ruth Sawyer. “I’m not prolific,” he once said. “It had to be right, and it often was.”
Americana on Parade: The Art of Robert McCloskey features more than 90 original artworks, ephemera, and rare preliminary book materials. While emphasis will center on Make Way for Ducklings, the exhibition considers McCloskey’s entire career ranging from his early publications Lentil (1940), Homer Price (1943), and Centerburg Tales (1951), which recall the artist’s youth in rural Ohio, to the family-based stories set in his adopted home state of Maine, such as Blueberries for Sal (1948) and Time of Wonder (1957). Curated by H. Nichols B. Clark, founding director and chief curator emeritus, the exhibition also showcases a selection of independent work—watercolors and paintings that connect McCloskey to such prominent American painters as Thomas Hart Benton and Edward Hopper.
Robert McCloskey, born in Hamilton Ohio in 1914, loved to paint, play the harmonica, and tinker with machines as a boy. He recalled, “I collected old electric motors and bits of wire, old clocks and Meccano sets. I built trains and cranes with remote controls, my family’s Christmas trees revolved, lights flashed and buzzers buzzed, fuses blew and sparks flew. The inventor’s life was the life for me—that is, until I started making drawings for the high school annual.” In 1932, during his senior year of high school, he won a three-year scholarship to study art in Boston, the city that later became the setting for Make Way for Ducklings. McCloskey also attended the National Academy of Design in New York, where he received numerous awards. Despite his talent, McCloskey’s lofty artistic aspirations were grounded by the reality that his paintings were not selling. He came to illustration almost by accident when he called upon the legendary children’s book editor May Massee at Viking Press.
Massee was the aunt of one of McCloskey’s high school classmates. Reviewing his portfolio of pretentious drawings and ideas about Pegasus, Spanish galleons, and other exalted literary subjects, Massee counseled the fledgling artist to focus on what he knew. McCloskey went home to Ohio and took this advice to heart. When he returned to New York in 1939, he presented Massee with a highly-rendered dummy for Lentil (1940), a partially autobiographical story about a young boy whose harmonica-playing talent “saves the day” for a big event in Alto, Ohio (based on McCloskey’s hometown). Massee responded enthusiastically by acquiring the story for Viking. Thus, she laid the first stone on a new career path for McCloskey.
McCloskey often expressed bemusement at his fabled career. There had, he said, been so few children’s books when he was growing up that it had never occurred to him that he would one day work in the same “field.” He claimed he didn’t know anything about children’s literature: “I think in pictures,” he said. “I fill in between pictures with words. My first book I wrote in order to have something to illustrate.”
It was, however, a story McCloskey had heard about a family of ducks that stopped traffic in the streets of Boston that piqued his interest and led to the book that would catapult him to fame and firmly establish his professional vocation. He showed a preliminary dummy to Massee, who advised McCloskey that he needed to learn a lot more about ducks in order to draw them well. He spent two years studying mallard specimens at the American Museum of Natural History and seeking guidance from an ornithologist. Eager to accurately capture their movements and personalities, he purchased 16 ducks that came to live in his small Greenwich Village apartment and serve as models (“No effort is too great to find out as much as possible about the things you are drawing,” he once opined). McCloskey had hoped to illustrate the book in watercolor, but Massee declined, concerned about the high cost of color printing. Make Way for Ducklings was printed in warm sepia; incredibly, McCloskey drew the final images on zinc lithographic plates backwards!
McCloskey married and had two daughters, Sally and Jane, both of whom played starring roles in his books. He and his family spent summers at their home on Deer Isle in Maine, the setting for four of his picture books, including Blueberries for Sal (1948) and Time of Wonder (1957). The Library of Congress named McCloskey a Living Legend in April 2000. He died in 2003, at the age of 88, at his home on Deer Isle.
An exhibition catalog with a forward by children’s literature historian Leonard S. Marcus and an essay by H. Nichols B. Clark will be available in The Carle Bookshop.
Support for this exhibition has been generously provided by Penguin Young Readers.
Every Day Art Program: It’s All About Blue
June 8 - July 19
Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal is the quintessential summertime story. Explore the magic of cool colors like blue, purple and green with this surprise activity!
Members Opening Reception: Americana on Parade: The Art of Robert McCloskey
June 18, 5:00 - 7:00 pm
5:00 pm Reception
6:15 pm Remembering Robert McCloskey: A Conversation with Curator Nick Clark and Sally and Jane McCloskey
Gallery Talk: Make Way for McCloskey
June 19, 1:00 pm
Free with Museum admission
Curator Nick Clark leads an informative tour through the exhibition Americana on Parade: The Art of Robert McCloskey.
Special Storytime: Ryan T. Higgins
June 19, 2:00 pm
Free with Museum admission
Make way for the goslings! In Ryan T. Higgins’ book, Mother Bruce, Bruce the bear discovers his hard-boiled goose eggs contain real live goslings. He tries to get them to fly south, but the goslings are convinced Bruce is their mother. What’s a bear to do?
ABOUT THE MUSEUM
The mission of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, a non-profit organization in Amherst, MA, is to inspire a love of art and reading through picture books. The only full-scale museum of its kind in the United States, The Carle collects, preserves, presents, and celebrates picture books and picture book illustrations from around the world. In addition to underscoring the cultural, historical, and artistic significance of picture books and their art form, The Carle offers educational programs that provide a foundation for arts integration and literacy.
Eric Carle and his wife, the late Barbara Carle, co-founded the Museum in November 2002. Carle is the renowned author and illustrator of more than 70 books, including the 1969 classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Since opening, the 40,000-square foot facility has served more than half a million visitors, including 30,000 schoolchildren. The Carle houses more than 13,000 objects, including 6,600 permanent collection illustrations. The Carle has three art galleries, an art studio, a theater, picture book and scholarly libraries, and educational programs for families, scholars, educators, and schoolchildren. Educational offerings include professional training for educators around the country and Master’s degree programs in children’s literature with Simmons College. Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 12 noon to 5 p.m. Open Mondays in July and August and during MA school vacation weeks. Admission is $9 for adults, $6 for children under 18, and $22.50 for a family of four. For further information and directions, call (413) 559-6300 or visit the Museum’s website at www.carlemuseum.org