By Maddie Orton
His characters are painted, cut, collaged and instantly recognizable. The man behind “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” is the subject of a very happy curator’s new exhibit: Eric Carle: Animals and Friends at the Montclair Art Museum.
“He is capable of telling a story in this very direct way that children understand,” says Montclair Art Museum’s Chief Curator Gail Stavitsky. “But at the same time, adults are engaged by this unique blend of abstraction and representation, and sophistication and simplicity.”
The show features artwork on loan from the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Massachusetts. It provides insight into how the 86-year-old author and illustrator of over 80 books works.
“So you have not only the original tissue paper collages, but also other objects that show his creative process,” says Stavitsky. “Original pencil sketches, original book dummies and mockups. You really get a sense of how he evolves his ideas over a period of time.”
Visitors will also get a sense of how ideas have shaped him. At age 6, Carle’s parents moved from Syracuse to their homeland of Germany where war broke out.
“And it was during high school,” Stavitsky says, “that he really became aware of the Nazis, and especially their policy of branding modern art as ‘degenerate.'”
Stavitsky says that, as an art student in high school, his teacher showed him reproductions of works by artists like Matisse, Picasso and Franz Marc, the pre-World War I German expressionist known for The Yellow Cow and Blue Horse.
“That was really the start of his creative vision, of his idea that you should have the freedom to paint a polka-dotted donkey, or a yellow cow or a blue horse,” explains Stavitsky.
In fact, Carle paid tribute to Marc in his 2011 book “The Artist Who Painted A Blue Horse”. He explains in this video:
“[Marc]’s an artist who’s inspired me, and I hope he’ll inspire you,” Carle said.
The art museum offers a room with tissue paper and other supplies for kids to try their hands at this style of visual art. A quote from Carle hangs on the wall as a reminder for these aspiring artists:
“There isn’t any wrong color and you don’t have to stay within the lines. In art, you’re supposed to be free!” It’s a philosophy that Carle continues to embrace with his latest book: “The Nonsense Show”.
“That we have to unleash our imaginations and do what we want to,” says Stavitsky.
Of course the exhibit wouldn’t be complete without Eric Carle books. A reading nook tucked inside the gallery houses a collection of family favorites.