What an amazing weekend! We’re still all glowing from the excitement of having Tomi Ungerer visit us for the opening of his exhibition this weekend. Tomi Ungerer: Chronicler of the Absurd will be open in our East Gallery until October 9th.
We celebrated Tomi’s visit with a Member’s reception on Saturday night, which included a delightful Q & A in our auditorium with Tomi Ungerer and the guest curator for the exhibit, Michael Patrick Hearn. They were given a charming introduction by Eric Carle, himself, who came up from his home in North Carolina for this special occasion. It turns out that although they were creating books in New York around the same time, Tomi and Eric never met. This evening marked their first meeting, but they found they had so much in common! Both came to the United States as young immigrants with only a small amount of money and were able to find graphic work in New York City and ultimately launch successful picture book careers. They both stressed experiencing the “American dream” where everyone was genuinely nice to them and America was truly the land of opportunity.
Tomi Ungerer made us tear up a little bit when he took a moment on stage to thank Eric Carle for opening this museum and putting so much support behind it. Tomi Ungerer’s home city of Strasbourg, France opened The Tomi Ungerer Museum-International Center of Illustration in 2007, which is completely government funded. He acknowledged that wasn’t how things were done in the United States and that he truly applauded Eric Carle for the work he has done to start and keep a picture book art museum alive in the US. “You are an absolute missionary of culture,” Tomi told Eric. “It brings tears to my eyes.”
The conversation touched on so many wonderful aspects of Tomi Ungerer’s work. He always creates books for himself, books he would have wanted to read as a child. He liked to be scared as kid, and thinks it’s important for books for children to deal with fears. “It’s wonderful to teach children to overcome it. You have to overcome your fears to stay alive as an adult.” This is the reason so many of his books deal with prejudice, racism or violence, because he believes it’s important for children to be aware of these things in our world and know how to deal with them. He enjoys creating books about animals which are normally hated, like snakes or vultures, to show that “everybody is different, but everyone has something.” He empowers his child characters because he knows that “adults are more stupid than children. Children have opinions and no one ever listens.”
His books are filled with visual puns and children usually are quick to spot deliberate inconsistencies and jokes. “I’m a professional practical joker,” he said. “I love the absurd.”
Ungerer let us in on the ideas behind the creation of many of his picture books and spoke a bit about his friendships with illustrators like Maurice Sendak and Shel Silverstein. He spoke of his American editors Ursula Nordstrom and Susan Hirschman (who was in attendance) with great admiration and respect. Although his books fell out of favor with American audiences in the 70′s and Ungerer himself left the U.S. for Canada and then Europe, he is pleased there is finally a publisher, Phaidon Press, bringing his books back into the English market. “It’s so encouraging to be back in the English world.” And it was so wonderful for us to have you here with us this weekend, Tomi.
In addition to the Q & A, members and Museum friends enjoyed a reception in the Great Hall on Saturday night. Here are a few fun photos from the night:
On Sunday, Tomi was back to do a personal gallery tour of his exhibition. He admitted being slightly embarrassed at seeing some of his early drafts and sketches. “When I do a book, I never look at it again.” The exhibition is a retrospective of Tomi’s artwork, chronicling the artist’s process from draft to finished piece and, despite feeling embarrassed to see some of the unfinished art and sketches on display, Tomi seemed very pleased with the exhibit.
Following the tour, Tomi did a book signing for the public, and signed seemingly hundreds of books for fans. Here’s a photo of a young fan meeting Tomi on Sunday:
We were so grateful for the opportunity to have Tomi Ungerer here during his short trip to the United States this week and hope that all of you get to see this marvelous exhibition this summer! Click here to see the exhibition catalog and browse our extensive selection of Tomi Ungerer books.