By Susan Constanse
My favorite place to read when I was a kid was the window seat in my parent’s bedroom. Curled up on the cushioned bench with the curtains drawn it became my own world, peopled by the characters from my favorite stories.
Years (and years and years) later, I still have a love for all of the places that reading a good book can take me. But what makes me nostalgic about those early forays into fictional landscapes is the density of illustration in my first books. Draw Me A Story, a recently installed exhibit at the Frick, presents a perfect opportunity for me to reacquaint myself with that first love of reading.
With dozens of original illustrations on exhibit, as well as a selection of books, Draw Me a Story explores a century in the history of children’s book illustration. As an adult, I can appreciate the exhibit for the fine examples of illustration. But the Frick has kept children in mind for this exhibit, hanging the works at a lower eye level, supplying a scattering of stepstools, and providing reading nooks for this engaging exhibit.
Originating from the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, California, Draw Me a Story presents examples from many well-known illustrators. Works from the nineteenth century, created in traditional ink and watercolor, are exemplified by popular artists like Ralph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway. Caldecott’s importance is recognized by the Caldecott Medal, an award given by the Association for Library Service to Children to the most distinguished picture book of the year; one award winner and two honor books have been named annually since 1938. Several of these award winners are represented in the exhibit.
Twentieth century artists include innovators like W.W. Denslow, best known for his illustrations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Chris Van Allsburg who authored as well as illustrated The Polar Express. The exhibition includes a pencil drawing of the Letter “G,” from his 1987 book, The Z was Zapped. Sendak won the Caldecott Medal in 1964 for Where the Wild Things Are. The exhibition features a sketch of Max, the boy who travels to live with the wild things.
Draw Me A Story also explores the evolution of illustration over the decades spanned by the exhibit. While early illustrators were well practiced in the traditional mediums of ink and watercolor, the aesthetic of illustration expanded to include experimental combinations of drawing and paint materials. Some things, however, have a common thread throughout the exhibit. The illustrations are always expressive and based in the narrative of the story to which it is attached. The colors range from delicate to bold, and the characters range from fanciful to outlandish.
An adjacent exhibit, Childhood at Clayton, draws from the Clayton collection to present a personal look at childhood in the Gilded Age. This was an era of change in the perception of childhood, when American culture began to see children as innocent individuals whose guidance, proper education and upbringing were central to life in the home. Many of the objects in Clayton reflect the lives of the Frick children. Their toys, books, clothing and furniture, have been used to illustrate the general beliefs of the time in the virtues of play, formal education, and proper social training.
Books from the Clayton collection were selected to complement the Draw Me a Story exhibit, including entertainment as well as educational material. Other artifacts, like a pair of lovely, hand painted wooden bookends, a paint kit for young artists, and a toy stove, round out the picture of childhood at Clayton.
The depth of the exhibit can be explored through several programs that the Frick is offering throughout the run of the exhibit. Every Friday afternoon, the museum offers gallery talks, conducted by museum staff. The first Saturday of each month is dedicated to a children’s program, with a take home project. The upcoming lectures and tours offer insight into both illustration and culture.
Coffee and Culture: Growing Up in the Gilded Age
Amanda Gillen, Assistant Curator of Education and Collections for Clayton
Thursday, March 22
Lexington Education Center
A relaxed lecture, and an opportunity for a detailed view of childhood in a pivotal transitional period of history. The lecture centers around quality of life for children in the late 19th century and the many ways in which children in the Gilded Age were viewed—and how they really lived.
$8 members; $10 non-members and guests. Advance registration and pre-payment required.
Family Day: Storybook Spring
Saturday, April 14
11:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.
Kick off National Library Week at a fun-filled family day event. The day includes gallery tours, special guest readers, hands-on art, and more.
Free event, open to the public.
A full listing of events, lectures and workshops are available on the website events page.
Draw Me a Story: A Century of Children’s Book Illustration
Frick Art & Historical Center
Tuesday – Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
7227 Reynolds Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15208