Celebrating Collage Exhibition Kicks Off 20th Anniversary
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art kicks off its 20th anniversary festivities with the exhibition Celebrating Collage: A 20th Anniversary Celebration, opening on June 25 and on view through December 31, 2022. Inspired by the distinctive art of our co-founder Eric Carle, the exhibition presents 20 picture-book artists who specialize in collage. They range from acknowledged giants of the medium like Ashley Bryan, Eric Carle, Lois Ehlert, Ezra Jack Keats, and Leo Lionni to vanguard artists of today, who continue to innovate and expand the art form. Together, the 90 featured collages tell the story of a technique that has been at the creative heart of picture books for half a century.
The term collage derives from the French word “coller,” meaning to stick or glue. For over 50 years Carle created his picture book illustrations from cut and torn painted tissue paper. Others in the exhibition use wallpaper, yarn, magazine images, seashells, photographs, even dry oatmeal in their work—all testament to the infinite possibilities of collage. “There is an immediacy and accessibility to collage—we inherently understand it,” says Chief Curator Ellen Keiter. “Most of us probably first experimented with collage in preschool or kindergarten. And now, as adults, we use the cut, copy, and paste tools on our computers every day. What stands out for me is how artists bring together disparate objects to create new narrative worlds. They transform the mundane into the magical.”
Keiter says she worked with the Museum’s director and educators to narrow the artist selection to 20, though she admits it wasn’t easy. “There is so much artistic talent in children’s literature right now. We considered everyone and everything, knowing we wanted to present different working styles, classic titles and contemporary ones, and a diversity of artists, perspectives, and subjects,” said Keiter. Each artist is represented by three to five works, and the living artists contributed written statements describing the importance of collage to their practice. Editors and scholars wrote texts for the deceased artists.
For most artists, it’s the tactile and transformative properties that draw them to collage. For Oge Mora, collage reminds her of the special things in life. “What I find irresistible about collage is how it reveals the ordinary as extraordinary. Everyday items like an old newspaper, a faded magazine, or the inside of an envelope, when cut just right, become special and profound.” Nina Crews values the technique’s variations: “Collage is playful. Collage is disruptive. Collage is an aggregation of materials and meanings. It is a great storytelling tool that challenges the viewer to make unexpected connections. It excites the mind and eye.”
Several artists in the exhibition find that collage allows them to express the nuances of nature. Nearly all of Steve Jenkins’s non-fiction books are about the natural world, particularly animals, which he brought to life through cut-paper collages. His longtime editor Margaret Raymo notes, “It was uncanny how he could find the perfect paper to mimic the fur of a pygmy mouse lemur [or] the scales of a reticulated python…” Susan L. Roth employs thousands of individual cuts in blue and green paper to imitate feathers in the book Parrots over Puerto Rico. Through painted and stamped papers, Micha Archer captures the refractions of dew drops on a spider web in Daniel Finds a Poem. Lois Ehlert, long beloved for her cut paper collages, created stories about natural life cycles, such as Waiting for Wings and Planting a Rainbow.
Collage proves the perfect medium for bringing people and places to life. Ekua Holmes captures the essence of poets—Billy Collins, Langston Hughes, Pedro Neruda, and Mary Oliver—in her collages from Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets. Melissa Sweet assembles three-dimensional objects to illustrate picture book biographies of author E.B. White, artist Judith Scott, and lexicographer Peter Mark Roget. Oge Mora illustrates the struggles and ultimate triumph of the human spirit in The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read. And Elizabeth Zunon uses collage to tell the life stories of renowned collagist Romare Bearden and contemporary artist El Anatsui.
Collage, in its vast varieties, aligns with the intangible qualities of music. Bryan Collier gives vision to the protest song “We Shall Overcome,” Christian Robinson illustrates the life of singer Nina Simone, and Julie Flett brings Buffy Sainte-Marie’s lyrics to life in Still This Love Goes On, to be released in September. Based on Yiddish folk songs, Simms Taback’s Joseph Had a Little Overcoat and When I First Came to this Land showcase the artist’s humorous interpretations manifested through remarkably detailed collages.
Five of the featured books explore identity through the medium of collage. Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s radiant Just Like Me and Nina Crews’s digital photocollages in A Girl Like Me rejoice in the limitless and empowering possibilities of girlhood. Thao Lam uses cut paper and childhood photographs in THAO, which tells of her experience growing up in Canada with a Vietnamese name that nobody could pronounce. Across several books, Ezra Jack Keats develops Peter, the protagonist of The Snowy Day, as he navigates his neighborhood and learns and adapts to his growing family and pets. Ashley Bryan imagines identity and restores dignity to anonymous enslaved individuals in Freedom Over Me. His collaged clippings from 19th century slave auction advertisements and plantation records prove potent backgrounds to the individual painted faces, like “Mulvina, Age 58, $100.”
Of course, artists use collage for original picture book tales too. Eric Carle is represented by a nighttime scene from his 1986 book Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me as well as a never-before-exhibited collage of the Very Hungry Caterpillar that he made at age 90. Leo Lionni wrote and illustrated Matthew’s Dream, a story populated by his signature—and adorable— construction paper mice. Ed Young’s newest illustrated book, Crane Maiden by Brenda Peterson, is a love story symbolized by the cranes of Asia and told through shadow play.
The 20 artists featured in the exhibition are: Micha Archer, Ashley Bryan, Eric Carle, Bryan Collier, Nina Crews, Lois Ehlert, Julie Flett, Ekua Holmes, Steve Jenkins, Ezra Jack Keats, Thao Lam, Leo Lionni, Oge Mora, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Christian Robinson, Susan L. Roth, Melissa Sweet, Simms Taback, Ed Young, and Elizabeth Zunon.
Celebrating Collage is dedicated to the memory of Ashley Bryan, Eric Carle, Lois Ehlert, and Steven Jenkins—artists featured in the exhibition who passed away during the planning of the show.
The opening is on June 25, on what would have been Eric Carle’s 93rd birthday. The Carle is celebrating 20 years and the nearly one million art- and book-loving visitors who have come through its doors. This event kicks off six months of special exhibitions and activities.
Collage Day at The Carle
June 25, 2022, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm meet some of the artists highlighted in Celebrating Collage: A 20th Anniversary Exhibition. Come for a day of storytimes, gallery talks, and book signings! Participating artists include Bryan Collier, Nina Crews, Thao Lam, Susan L. Roth, and Elizabeth Zunon.
About the Museum
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is the international champion for picture books. We collect, preserve, and exhibit original illustrations, encourage guests of all ages to read and create art, and foster an ever-growing audience passionate about children’s literature.
The late Eric and Barbara Carle co-founded the Museum in November 2002. Eric Carle was the renowned author and illustrator of more than 70 books, including the 1969 classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Since opening, the 43,000-square foot facility has served nearly one million visitors, The Carle houses more than 11,000 objects, including 7,300 permanent collection illustrations. The Carle has three art galleries, an art studio, a theater, picture book and scholarly libraries, and educational programs for families, scholars, educators, and school children. Bobbie’s Meadow is an outdoor space that combines art and nature. Educational offerings include professional training for educators around the country and master’s degree programs in children’s literature with Simmons University. The Museum offers digital resources, including art activities, book recommendations, collections videos, exhibition videos, as well as workshops for online visitors. Learn more at www.carlemuseum.org and on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram @CarleMuseum.
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