By Deanna Duff
Hungry caterpillars, blue horses and brown bears — oh my! Tacoma Art Museum’s new family-friendly exhibition, Beyond Books: The Independent Art of Eric Carle (which opens this Saturday, April 6 and runs through July 7) showcases an unprecedented variety of paintings, sculptures and personal pieces by artist Eric Carle, beloved for his over 70 children’s books, including The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
The show provides an intimate view of the artist. Divided into two galleries, the smaller space is devoted to his more playful and recognizable pieces (children’s books prints and caricature notecards) and will undoubtedly charm younger fans. The larger gallery, however, is the show’s crown jewel. Carle explains it as his “ArtArt,” a wide-ranging collection of collages, glass work, costumes and more. Many pieces were made for family and friends and have rarely or never-before been publicly displayed.
“This exhibit is a fascinating insight into his process and work,” says Stephanie Stebich, TAM’s director. Stebich, a longtime Carle friend, helped persuade the artist to share many of the pieces which come straight from his home. Tacoma is the show’s only West Coast stop.
"ArtArt," from abstract to murals
Part of Carle’s enduring appeal is that his work resonates with all ages and his ArtArt is no exception. The gallery is organized by category rather than chronologically -- posters, linoleum cuts, glass, prints, etc. While many of the pieces are more abstract, there is often still a sense of whimsy and vibrant use of color.
“Eric likes to say there simply aren’t enough colors in the universe. He really wishes there were more colors,” says Stebich.
Collages, such as “Ribbon Candy” -- made from acrylic and metal strips that resemble the traditional hard candy -- form to make an interlocking, jumbled rainbow. The artistic texture and technicality will fascinate art enthusiasts, but the twirling candy colors will delight all ages.
Likewise, Carle’s “Kimono” triptych delights both the mind and eye. Inspired by Japanese kimonos, up-close viewing reveals the intricate use of cut tissue paper. However, even without an artist’s vocabulary, younger ones will still appreciate the pink “squiggles,” pastel brushstrokes and blue and green “sea star” shapes.
Two pieces worth particular notice are the large wall murals, 14 by 20 feet, one in each gallery. Carle created them specifically for the TAM exhibit. They were inspired by murals on permanent display at The Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts. Both are messily color-blocked pieces that encourage viewers to make their own interpretation.
Animal prints and thank-you notes
Of course, the smaller gallery containing Carle’s more overtly whimsical work is a sure hit for kids. Prints of Carle’s superstars, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Blue Horse and Brown Bear, are even hung lower than normal for the under-5-foot crowd.
Many of Carle’s personal thank-you notes to family and friends are also on display. Each one is a beautifully rendered drawing, often a cartoon pictorial, and sometimes done in crayon. They’re lovely in sentiment and style. It might even inspire a few youngsters to rethink thank-you writing as fun!
A sampling of Carle’s sculptures is already an exhibit favorite. The starkly black, steel figures abstractly depict animals, such as a cat and owl, and are accented with colorful sticks for teeth or feathers. The bold design speaks to Carle’s past work as a graphic designer.
Likewise, the influence of his design background and early career in advertising and designing book covers, is obvious in his “name” prints. He plays with text and creates colorful depictions of friends’ names as well as letters of the alphabet. The acrylic/tissue paper collage entitled “The Letter N” is a fun, high-art version of Sesame Street’s “Letter of the Day.”
Interactive exhibits are available to kids in the smaller gallery. A selection of Carle’s books are available for reading and an oversized magnetic board encourages kids to create their own art collages with colorful swatches.
“This exhibition is for families and I think you can have different conversations with your children. I think you can talk about the different things you can do in your life, the different moments and to be open to opportunities,” says Stebich. “I hope it inspires another generation.”
If you go ...
What and when: Beyond Books: The Independent Art of Eric Carle runs from April 6–July 7, 2013
Where: Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma
Ages: A truly all-ages show, with something for tots, elementary school kids, teens and adults
Hours: Wednesday–Sunday 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; free Third Thursday, April 18, 5 p.m.–8 p.m.
Admission: Exhibit included in regular admission. Adults $10; students, Military, Seniors (65 +) $8; family (2 adults and up to 4 children under 18) $25; children age 5 and under free
Parking: Paid parking is available in the parking lot underneath the building. The museum is easily accessible by elevator or stairs. Parking is $2 an hour or $12 for the full day.
Food: To feed your hungry caterpillars, Relish Cafe is onsite and offers a variety of soups, salads and sandwiches averaging $8–$10. A kid’s menu with grilled cheese and smaller sandwiches are $5. The children's menu currently reflects Eric Carle's favorite characters: the Blooming Butterfly PB&J is cut into the shape of a butterfly and the Hungry Caterpillar Grilled Cheese has holes throughout in honor of the book's cutaway features (both served with fruit, chips and cookie, $5). Within walking distance (on a sunny day), also find Renaissance Cafe (1746 Pacific Avenue), a multi-decade, Tacoma favorite, with breakfast options, salads, sandwiches and barbecue ($8-$10). For a sweet treat, Hello, Cupcake (1740 Pacific Ave.) is a delightfully retro cupcake spot.
After TAM, try: Tacoma’s museum district is also home to the Museum of Glass, Washington State History Museum, Chihuly Bridge of Glass, and recently opened LeMay Car Museum. Children’s Museum of Tacoma, within walking distance from TAM, has a special exhibit, "Rubber Ducktastic" in honor of Eric Carle. Inspired by Carle's 10 Little Rubber Ducks book, the exhibit includes hands-on activities such as paper collage making, caterpillar-ish weaving, printmaking and more. Most fun of all, enjoy the rubber ducky-filled pit!
**Eric Carle will visit Tacoma Art Museum in person for opening weekend. Event information here.
Saturday, April 6, 2 p.m.
Free with admission
Learn more about Eric Carle and his work from Nick, Clark, Chief Curator of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.
Beyond Books: A Conversation with Eric Carle
Sunday, April 7, 1 p.m.
Lecture held at Philip Hall, UW Tacoma; book signing, 3 p.m. at Tacoma Art Museum
$15–$20. Space is limited, reserve in advance.
Beyond Books: Gallery Talk
Sunday, April 7, 4 p.m.
Free with admission
Tour the exhibition with Nick Clark, Chief Curator of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
Director Lecture: The “ArtArt” of Eric Carle
Wednesday, April 10, 10:30 a.m.
Free with admission
Tacoma Art Museum Director Stephanie Stebich will lead a tour of the current exhibition
Workshop: The Art of Collage
Saturday, June 29, 10 a.m.–1 p.m.
$25 for museum members, $35 for non-members, which includes admission for one adult with or without an accompanying child. Each additional child is $10. Preregistration required.
About the author: Deanna Duff is a Seattle-based freelance writer who contributes to a wide variety of regional and national publications. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Press Association which has awarded her writing. A Northwest native, she grew up working on her family's organic farm and selling at the Pike Place Market. She enjoys featuring and celebrating all aspects of family life.