In my experience, most children would rather eat boiled kale than visit
an art museum. All that dry classicism and incomprehensible modernism
make leafy greens seem like the more preferable option on the "good for
you" list. But as summer draws to a close, parents need a change of
scenery. We would sooner down a hundred Pixy Stix than spend another
day at the wading pool.
How nice, then, that Tacoma Art Museum is mounting an exhibit both
generations can enjoy. From Oct. 7, 2006 through Jan. 21, 2007, TAM is
presenting over 50 works of children's book author and illustrator Eric
Carle. And that's just the beginning of a Carle-saturated fall season
on the local arts scene.
The strategy is as old as that Goya etching your child just ignored:
Use familiar elements to draw new visitors into an unfamiliar world.
TAM is betting that Carle's instantly recognizable pictures will
attract the museum-phobic among us, and children aren't the sole
targets. "We want to introduce young people and parents to a museum
experience by tying it to something familiar; in this case, Eric
Carle," says Curator of Education Paula McArdle. "We want to overcome
children's fear of museums, and that spills over to the parents also."
Carle's eminence in the world of children's literature can only help
TAM's mission to be welcoming to children and families. "We want to be
a fun place," McArdle says. "You don't have to know anything about art
to walk in the door." Maybe not, but most parents and children are
well-acquainted with Carle's colorful tissue-and-acrylic collages of
animals and the natural world. The exhibit will feature many of his
most beloved creations, including The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Polar Bear Polar Bear and The Very Quiet Cricket.
A video presentation will show the artist at work, and books will be on
hand in case the Caterpillar's winsome gaze draws you into his tale of
greed, despair and, ultimately, triumph.
Other local arts
organizations are offering a bonanza of additional Carle-centric
activities. For example, 3- to 5-year-olds can learn about the animals
in Carle's books, enjoy a gallery reading, and create art in TAM's Open
Art Studio, courtesy of Tahoma Audubon's three-part "Young at Art:
Reading Creatures" series, held on one Tuesday in October, November and
December ($5-$8 per session, call 253-272-4258, Ext. 3030 for details
and reservations). Page Ahead Children's Literacy Program invites
children to create their own Carle-esque tissue collages and attend
storytelling and performances in TAM's galleries at the Community
Celebration, held on Saturday, Oct. 7 from noon-3 p.m. Bring a new or
gently used book donation and receive free admission to the museum.
Tacoma Public Library is featuring a story time theater program in
which local actors translate Carle's work from book to stage (for the
complete schedule, call 253-591-5666 or visit www.tacomapubliclibrary.org).
And the Children's Museum of Tacoma promises to "immerse children in
Eric's collage-making process," which may turn our beloved sons and
daughters into veritable tissue junkies, thirsting for a Charmin fix.
(Visit www.ChildrensMuseumofTacoma.org for details.)
In addition, consider Seattle Arts & Lectures' "A Conversation with
Eric Carle" on Oct. 21 at Seattle's Town Hall. There's no age
restriction to attend, and SAL knows that "Let's go to the lecture
hall!" isn't exactly a rallying cry for modern youth. Having featured
children's book authors before, SAL is prepared to neutralize the
fidget factor. ("Polar Express" author Chris Van Allsburg's appearance
in 2004 featured a pajama party in the lecture hall.) Just as TAM
expects Carle's pictures to attract new museum fans, SAL reckons that
his storytelling will draw nascent readers. "We think it will appeal to
children as well as their parents, "says Executive Director Magit
Rankin. "Eric is probably one of the first authors most people read, so
I think he's a natural fit for us." Nick Clarke, director of the Eric
Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass., is scheduled to
join the author for an interactive discussion about Carle's books and
illustrations, some of which will flank the stage. For tickets ($18,
under 25 $9) and more information, call 206-621-2230 or visit
www.lectures.org. The next afternoon, Oct. 22, Clarke again joins Carle
at the Rialto Theater in downtown Tacoma for a similar discussion,
followed by a book signing and exhibition reception at TAM. Tickets to
the 2 p.m. Rialto program are $20, $5 for children under 12, which
includes museum admission. For reservations, phone 253-272-4258, Ext.
3030 or email programs@TacomaArtMuseum.org.
Given all of the riches above, families from every corner of Puget
Sound should mosey down to Tacoma, perhaps to attend a performance
followed by an art class and a gallery visit. As The Very Hungry
Caterpillar learned, eating one nice green leaf will make you feel much
better. With Eric Carle on exhibit, going to the museum will make you
feel much better, too.
If you go
The Art of Eric Carle runs Oct. 7, 2006-Jan. 7, 2007 at the Tacoma Art
Museum, 701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma. The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday,
10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5 p.m., and every third Thursday, 10
a.m.-8 p.m. Family admission is $25, adult $7.50,
student/military/senior $6.50, 5 and under free.
Derek Blaylock lives in Seattle with his wife and two young sons.