The Northampton Arts Council works to support and nurture the arts in the city of Northampton. The Council awards grants twice each year to artists and arts groups from both state and locally-raised funds, and seeks to improve public awareness of the arts. Its' goals include maintaining and preserving the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Northampton, programming such annual events of interest to the community as First Night Northampton and Transperformance.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Collecting Inspiration: Contemporary Illustrators and their Heroes at Eric Carle Museum

Collecting Inspiration: Contemporary Illustrators and their Heroes.
May 23 through November 26
Presented by The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
125 W Bay Rd, Amherst, MA

"Artists cannot work in a vacuum, especially if they have a dust allergy." Although a joke, author, illustrator, and now co-curator Mo Willems' words ring true. Picture books instill in children a sense of awe, magic, and wonderment, but what is it that inspires the illustrators--the people who bring incredibly imaginative worlds to life? The Carle's exhibition, Collecting Inspiration: Contemporary Illustrators and Their Heroes, on view May 23 through November 26, gives visitors a peek into the minds and motivations of an array of talented artists working today.

The show is organized by two prominent figures in the field of picture book art--Tony DiTerlizzi and Mo Willems--who share their personal stories of inspiration and influence. Their concept for the exhibition arose when they discovered that each had begun collecting work by other illustrators important to their careers. Willems, a lifelong admirer of Charles Schulz, and his wife bought an original 1953 Sunday Peanuts cartoon strip for their first wedding anniversary. Willems was enamored by Schulz's skillful use of lettering as a way to express emotion, a technique he admits to "freely lifting" when creating his first picture book, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Visitors can view Willems' exuberant pigeon--yelling in ALL CAPS--along with Lucy's similarly "loud" verbal tantrum in the Peanuts cartoon. "Later in my career," says Willems, "when I was lucky enough to actually own one or two of the actual drawings I studied in my youth, it was like welcoming an old friend into my home."

DiTerlizzi was entranced by Brian Froud's fantasy illustrations when his mother bought him Faeries in 1978. The book had such a profound effect that, upon graduating art school, DiTerlizzi wrote to Froud, explaining how much his art meant to him and included samples of his own work. He was overjoyed when Froud replied with praise--and a drawing torn from a sketchbook. "I still treasure that scrap of paper,"says DiTerlizzi. "It's as much a diploma as the one I received from art school." For DiTerlizzi, Froud's sketch "held the possibilities of what I could one day become." The exhibition features Froud's sketchbook page alongside DiTerlizzi's Common House Boggart from the popular Spiderwick Chronicles.

Selecting the artists for the exhibition was not an easy task. Says Willems: "It's been an incredible education to see such a diverse group of artists in terms of age, style, and work answer the same fundamental question: what sparked me to become the artist I have become?" Each featured artist contributed a personal statement speaking to the importance of their inspiration on their work and career. Visitors will learn what prompted Jerry Pinkney to purchase, on layaway, a Leonard Baskin etching of dandelions. Or how Alice and Martin Provensen's illustrations from The Golden Book of Fun and Nonsense informed Lane Smith's experimental approach in The Stinky Cheese Man. Or what Patrick McDonnell feels when he gazes at W.W. Denslow's illustration from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz near his drawing table.

As Willems says, "Whatever the reason for an artist to collect, it is deeply fascinating to see the connection between someone's efforts and their heroes. Are these collections reminders of what got them excited to become artists? Or are they trophies, rewards for having stuck it through and survived in a demanding vocation? Maybe, they're just beautiful."

Although art by the 19 contemporary illustrators differs vastly, their shared sense of inspiration is a reminder that the creative process often crosses generations. "I realize there are infinite ways to create a picture book," DiTerlizzi explains. "Showcasing a selection of diverse artists, and their individual inspirations, may just demonstrate that, in truth, we really are all interconnected in some way."

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