The Hungry Caterpillar book nook is a popular draw at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART
by Susan Flynn
Very much like a picture book by Eric Carle, the museum bearing his name is a cheery, colorful place that nurtures an appreciation of nature and the curiosity to explore.
Located at 125 West Bay Road in Amherst, next to the campus of Hampshire College, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (www.carlemuseum.org) celebrates its 10-year anniversary in November 2012. And while the works of the author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar – whose books have sold more than 118 million copies worldwide – are prominently displayed, the museum showcases picture-book illustrators from around the world to inspire a love of art and reading in young children.
“For many children, picture books are the first artwork they ever really know,” says Alexandra Kennedy, the museum’s executive director. “Here, children get an art museum experience, but everything they see feels familiar to them. They can say, ‘Wow, this is how the book started.’”
Eric Carle, who is now 83 and keeps a studio in nearby Northampton, came up with the idea for the museum after traveling in Japan with his wife, Barbara, and discovering several institutions dedicated solely to picture-book art. He thought the United States should have one, too.
His handprint is everywhere. Floor-to-ceiling windows encourage the visitor to look outward at the apple orchards that dot the property, rather than inward, as is the experience typical of most art museums. The art studio encourages children and parents to sit down to paint, draw and imagine. In the bathroom, white tiles with animals from his books adorn the walls; and in the men’s room, a small blue fly character can be found in the urinals. Carle, known for his playful spirit, saw something similar in an Amsterdam airport and was told bathrooms stay cleaner when boys (and men) are given a target.
Every year about 45,000 people visit the 40,000-square-foot museum. While the staff makes a point to say this is an art museum, not a children’s museum, kids won’t be told to talk in soft voices. There’s plenty of space inside and outside to let off steam.
Inside the exhibit spaces, there are benches and books, so that children can read a Maisy story by Lucy Cousins and then look at her artwork on the walls. The museum, the first of its kind in the country dedicated to celebrating and preserving picture-book art, holds more than 10,000 pieces in its collection. A library here has more than 4,000 picture books and a regular story hour. In the auditorium, a daily short film explores picture books and the authors and illustrators associated with it.
The public is invited to a special book-signing bash, story times and other special events on Sunday, Nov. 11, to celebrate the museum’s 10th anniversary. Check out the website for more details.