By Marcus, Leonard S.
FEW ARTWORKS TOUCH US MORE DEEPLY than those we encounter as children, in the vibrantly illustrated pages of such books as Where the Wild Things Are and Goodnight Moon. Yet the fine-art world has generally cast a cold eye on so-called kiddie-book illustration--notwithstanding the genre's venerable history and its current immersion in something like a golden age.
Now, thanks largely to the efforts of three museums, artists from Dr. Seuss to recent Caldecott medalists David Wiesner and Mary Azarian are starting to receive their due. The newest and most ambitious of these ventures is the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (www.picturebookart.org), which opened last November in a gleaming 44,000-square-foot structure in Amherst, Massachusetts.
The dream project of Eric Carle, the creator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the museum was first conceived as a modest showcase and home for the artist's own originals. But as planning progressed, grander possibilities suggested themselves, including the chance to honor an art form in its entirety. A hands-on art studio, browsing library and full schedule of story-hour events offer visitors a variety of family-oriented options. At the center of it all, in three galleries that feature the work of such artists as Carle, Maurice Sendak and Nancy Eckholm Burkert, the focus is very simply on looking. As director Nick Clark explains: "We want visitors to feel at home looking--and looking again--at this art. We hope and believe they'll be surprised by what they see." The museum makes a point in its exhibits of relating illustration art to other art forms. For instance, its Maurice Sendak show included a watercolor by Randolph Caldecott, two prints by Albrecht Durer and a painting by Winslow Homer--all of which influenced Sendak's development in some way, as well as examples of Sendak's designs for opera sets and costumes. …