Weekend Highlights

Published April 9, 2013
At Home & Living

A Parent’s Review: The Independent Art of Eric Carle

by Wenda Reed
seattle child article photo
Four Easy Pieces, © 2011 by Eric Carle. Acrylic and tissue paper collage, 30 1/6 x 20 1/6 inches.
Collection of Eric and Barbara Carle, courtesy of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, Massachusetts.

seattle child article photo
Conestoga Wagon, © 1965 by Eric Carle. Linoleum cut print, 6 x 7 ½ inches.
Collection of Eric and Barbara Carle, courtesy of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, Massachusetts.

You may think of Eric Carle as a “little kid’s artist” because of his famous illustrations for The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See? and more than 70 other picture books. If so, the current exhibit at the Tacoma Art Museum may make you think again. 

“Beyond Books: The Independent Art of Eric Carle” appeals to children of all ages, including teens. My own reaction to many of the pieces was: “I’d like to try that!” (And indeed you can with materials in the museum’s Open Art Studio.) 

The exhibit showcases Carle’s early posters and book jackets, prints he made from carving designs into linoleum, and painted tissue paper collages, along with kimonos, costumes and murals made of Tyvek (material used to sheath houses for insulation). Not to mention recent street photography, collages woven from painted strips of aluminum, and whimsical acetate animal sculptures. Carle calls this his “ArtArt,” outside the limits of his day job illustrating children’s picture books. He’s clearly having fun with it. 

The first of two galleries is dominated by a 10-foot by 17-foot red, blue, yellow and green acrylic painting on Tyvek. An accompanying illustration and video shows Carle creating the piece by laying the canvas on the floor and applying paint with big brushes and rollers, patterned with trowels and other tools. 

Carle paints tissue paper and cuts out the sections to create his picture book animals. For his “ArtArt” he makes abstract collages from the leftover brightly-painted and patterned pieces, some suggestive of bridges or kimonos, others pure explorations of color and shape. I love the collages creating people’s names; older kids and teens may well be inspired to make some for their friends. 

The linoleum prints are intricate and fascinating; can you believe he can get that much detail out of this medium? The costumes for a production of Mozart’s Magic Flute demonstrate how Carle adapted to budget constraints by making costumes out of Tyvek – a medium he liked so well that he later used it for his large murals. He habitually listens to Mozart when he paints, so helping with costumes and sets was a thrill for him. 

In the second gallery, you’ll see a second huge mural and some of Carle’s better-known tissue paper animals, including the iconic caterpillar, the gorgeous butterfly and the blue horse. A video showing how he imagines and constructs these held the attention of several children on the opening day of the exhibit. There’s a magnetic bulletin board and a magnetic table where you can move painted pieces around to create your own animals or abstract collages. I don’t think many people can help smiling at the abstract metal animal sculptures. 

Between the lobby and the Carle exhibit, you’ll pass several cases of glass art that defies categorization. Three 10- to 12-year-olds kept asking “What’s that?” and saying “This is so cool” to the animal masks, Oz figures and spacey abstracts. You’ll also pass the “Chihuly: Gifts from the Artist” gallery, showing some of the Tacoma native’s most beautiful pieces and, thankfully, omitting his “hanging glass intestines” phase. 

The other current exhibit is “Drawing Line into Form: Works on Paper by Sculptors.” This may interest older children, especially if they’ve seen some of the work at the Olympic Sculpture Park in downtown Seattle. 

If you’re coming to Tacoma from the Seattle area, you might want to make a day out of it by taking the Sounder train into the city and exploring the nearby Museum of Glass and Washington State History Museum (included in one admission price with the Tacoma Art Museum on Wednesdays). 

You can see some of the glass art at MOG, including the beautiful Chihuly pieces on the bridge, without paying admission to go inside. You can also walk through the beautifully renovated Union Station and find plenty of restaurants on Pacific Avenue. The Children’s Museum of Tacoma is two blocks from the art museum on the same street.

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If You Go...

Where: Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave., downtown Tacoma. 

When: Eric Carle exhibit runs through July 7; “Drawing Line into Form” through May 27. Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; third Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

Admission: Adults $10; students $8; families (two adults and up to four children 18 and younger) $25; children 5 and younger free; third Thursdays, 5 to 8 p.m., free for all. Midweek at the Museum every Wednesday combines admission to the Tacoma Art Museum, Museum of Glass and Washington State History Museum: adults $22; students and children $18.

Parking: Available next to the art museum; $2 per hour. 

Contact: 253-272-4258; www.TacomaArtMuseum.org

Special programs:

“Think Physically”: Local author/illustrator Richard Jesse Watson gives a lecture and leads an art activity on making 3-D sculptures out of recycled materials. Sunday, May 5, lecture and book signing at 2 p.m.; workshop at 3:30 p.m. Ages 7 through adult. $5-$10 for the lecture; $10-$15 for the workshop. 

Mother’s Day Brunch: Brunch, exhibit tour and family photo. Sunday, May 12, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. $20-$25. 

“Books and Beyond: The Art of Collage”: Explore Eric Carle’s work and create a painting collage. Saturday, June 29, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. $35 for one adult, with or without a child; $10 per additional child.

More About This Story...

Homepage Image: Photo of Eric Carle at work in his studio by Motoko Inoue. © 2011. This exhibition was organized by The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, MA.