Ten Years of Celebrating the Art of the Picture Book

“It has been our dream to build a museum for children and families, scholars and librarians, scholars and everyone interested in the art of the picture book; a museum to delight, entertain, surprise, and educate.”

With those words, Eric and Barbara Carle started The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art just off of Hampshire College ten years ago. On Friday, November the First, I paid the museum a visit to see how it was celebrating its tenth anniversary. I met with Nick Clark, Chief Curator of the Museum.

NICK: “In 1983, Eric and his wife Barbara went to Japan and learned there were over 20 museums in Japan dedicated to the art of picture book art and that there was nothing comparable in America. And Eric wanted to do something about that.

So I was able to take their dream and bring it to a reality, and we opened on November 22, 2002. As I look back on what we’ve accomplished in ten years it’s been absolutely remarkable.”

Nick also showed me around some of the Museum’s facilities and galleries.

NICK: “Once the idea expanded from a 1500 square foot to a 44000 square foot space, the first thing that Eric really wanted was to have an art studio that was open every moment that the museum was open, so that’s what we have.

So, in addition to the art studio, obviously the core of the Museum is the exhibition galleries, and there are three. One of the galleries is, understandably, dedicated to the art of Eric, and currently we have work from his forthcoming book, to come out later this month.

In addition, in this space is a small display case showing, in a sense, his process, working from the blank paper through the colored papers through the cut papers through the finished product. And there’s also a lovely sort of photobiography of Eric, which people enjoy enormously because they can really trace, photographically, his life from the age of one-and-a-half or two, almost to the present time.

And then finally, Mo Willems, who happily for us is a neighbor who lives in Northampton. Having trained, really, at Sesame Street, he understands how children think and he understands how children respond. So this is an exhibition that surveys his career to date.

Visitors that come, young and old, have characters that they respond to, the pigeon particularly. What is so key about that is that here’s a book where the pigeon desperately wants to drive the bus. And who gets to tell them ‘No,’ but the child himself. I in fact surveyed a large number of visitors on two days asking them, ‘Would they let the pigeon drive the bus and, more importantly, if the pigeon were driving the bus, would they get on the bus?’

And my research showed that the children were much more sensible than the adults!”

Is there any particular moment you’ve had in your time at the Eric Carle Museum that really stands out in your memory as sort of, why you’re involved, why you do this job?

NICK: “Wow. Uhm…the greatest compliment that I feel I get paid is when I see a child very upset because they have to leave the Museum.”

For Street Level Sounds this is David Baird. Street Level Sounds is a production of New England Public Radio; a Community based audio library of the Western New England experience.


Street Level Sounds are produced by New England Public Radio interns as part of AudioFiles. The interviews, anecdotes, and oral histories recorded for Street Level Sounds are designed to build a public library of the western New England experience, and are not intended as news content, or endorsements by NEPR’s staff or Board. For more information on Street Level Sounds, contact AudioFiles producer, Peter Chilton.

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