The Eric Carle Museum Presents a Mo Willems Exhibit
(Amherst, MA) May 2013 — The Pigeon may not be able to drive the bus, or stay up late, or keep his own hot dog—but this June he gets to star with other familiar friends in his very own exhibition, Seriously Silly: A Decade of Art & Whimsy by Mo Willems. The retrospective will be on view from June 22 through February 23, 2014 at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts. The Carle—and Pigeon—are each honored to be celebrating a ten-year anniversary.
Best-selling author and artist Mo Willems has created more than 40 books for children and won three Caldecott Honors, two Geisel Medals, and three Geisel Honors. Though it’s still early in his picture book career, Willems already has a place in children’s literary history, greatly influencing artists, writers, and publishers, and reducing an entire generation to fits of giggling. The exhibition features almost 100 works, including beloved picture book characters Knuffle Bunny, Elephant and Piggie, the Pigeon, Edwina, Leonardo, Cat the Cat, and the Duckling. Guests are invited to also enjoy The Red Elephant, a 1,500 pound steel sculpture on long-term loan to The Carle. Seriously Silly was made possible by the generous support of Disney Publishing Worldwide.
The exhibition, curated by The Carle’s chief curator, Nick Clark, will show preliminary drawings that give viewers a glimpse of Willems’ process, as well as other finished illustrations that fully reveal his comedic genius and the influence of his early work as an animator for Sesame Street. Willems’ own work is accompanied by a selection of work from his private collection by the comic book artists and cartoonists who have inspired him most, including Charles M. Schulz, William Steig, and Saul Steinberg. Like the masters who came before him, Willems makes a powerful message look simple. “Writing, especially funny stuff, involves touching your own heart,” says Willems. “But to get there you have to rip open the rib cage and squeeze past the lungs. It can’t help but be messy, shocking, and painful.”
Willems’ books culminate in a crescendo of emotion, highlighted by large and often jagged type and expressive lines that speak directly to his passionate feelings. The result is that both children and adults cannot help but laugh.
“Mo’s work came to the top of our list when we talked about the exhibitions we wanted to mount for our tenth anniversary,” said the Museum’s executive director, Alexandra Kennedy. “His style appears so simple but there is so much contained within that distillation—outrageous comedy, a child’s eye view, and important revelations about kindness and acceptance. We are so proud here at The Carle to pay tribute to Willems’ past decade of work.”
Related Programming and Events
June 22, 2013 - Members-only exhibition opening, featuring a talk by Mo Willems and a chance to view the exhibition. Reservations required; space is limited.
June 23, 2013 - Mo Willems Day at The Carle. Gallery tour with Mo Willems at
1:00 p.m. Book signing to follow for all guests. Reservations required for the tour; space is limited.
July 13, 2013 - Mo Willems Day at The Carle. See www.carlemuseum.org for details. Some reservations required.
Ongoing events for school groups and guests will take place throughout the exhibition in the Museum’s Art Studio, Auditorium, Galleries and Reading Library.
Catalog and Books
A 40-page, full-color catalog about Mo Willems and the exhibition is available for purchase at the Carle Book Shop for $16.95. www.carlemuseum.org/shop. In addition, the shop has a large selection of Mo Willems’ books and merchandise. Don't Pigeonhole Me!: Two Decades of the Mo Willems Sketchbook, which will be available on June 18, gives adults a rare glimpse at Willems' early self-published Pigeon illustrations, along with two decades’ worth of cartoons and sketches.
About Mo Willems
The New York Times best-selling author and illustrator Mo Willems began his career as a writer and animator for PBS’s Sesame Street, where he garnered 6 Emmy Awards for his writing. During his nine seasons at Sesame Street, Mo also served as a weekly commentator for BBC Radio and created two animated series, Nickelodeon’s The Off-Beats and Cartoon Network’s Sheep in the Big City.
While serving as head writer for Cartoon Network’s #1 rated show, Codename: Kids Next Door, Mo began writing and drawing books for children. His debut effort, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! became a New York Times best seller and was awarded a Caldecott Honor in 2004. The following year Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale was awarded a Caldecott Honor. The sequel, Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity garnered Mo his third Caldecott Honor in 2008.
In addition to picture books, Mo created the Elephant and Piggie books, a series of “Easy Readers,” which were awarded the Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal in 2008 and 2009 and Geisel Honors in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
June 2013 marks the publication date of Don’t Pigeonhole Me!: Two Decades of the Mo Willems Sketchbook, giving readers a rare glimpse into his personal work, characters and ideas.
Mo’s drawings, wire sculptures, and sculptures have been exhibited in numerous galleries and museums across the nation, and his graphic story about his family experiences during 9-11 for DC comics resides in the Library of Congress’s permanent collection.
Mo has been heard on NPR’s All Things Considered, where he served as the broadcast’s “Radio Cartoonist.” Today, he continues to voice and produce animated cartoons based on his books with Weston Woods studios. The animated Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale was awarded Best Film during the New York International Children’s Film Festival in 2008 and received the Andrew Carnegie Medal in 2007. The animated Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! garnered Mo his second Carnegie Medal in 2010.
Mo wrote the script and lyrics for Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical, commissioned by the Kennedy Center for its 2010 season. The production subsequently toured the nation for 18 months. Elephant & Piggie’s We Are In a Play! was also commissioned for its 2013 season, running from November 23-December 31, 2013.
His monumental sculpture, The Red Elephant, can be viewed in the courtyard of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.
Mo lives in Massachusetts with his family.
About the Museum
The mission for The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, a nonprofit organization in Amherst, Massachusetts, 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 and Barbara Carle founded the Museum in November 2002. Eric 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. Its extensive resources include a collection of more than 10,000 picture book illustrations, 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. 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 Massachusetts 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 413-658-1100 or visit the Museum’s website at www.carlemuseum.org.