28 July 2006

Art of Oz at Eric Carle Museum

Yesterday I visited the "Wonderful Art of Oz" exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts. It was quite enjoyable, and I think Saturday's event with Robert Sabuda demonstrating how he designed his Pop-Up Wizard of Oz should be a treat. Curator and author Michael Patrick Hearn will be there as well. Unfortunately, I'm now four hours further on up the road, so I'll miss it.

The exhibit includes many of W. W. Denslow's original pen-and-ink drawings for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The two parts of the picture of the field mice pulling the Cowardly Lion from the poppy field, now in different collections, have been reunited and hung together. I'm sorry the picture of the China Country isn't among them since that shows Denslow reworking how Toto is posed, giving a special peek at his process.

There are also lots of pictures by John R. Neill, especially some of his iconic portraits of Dorothy, Ozma, and Glinda, and some oddities he produced for fans rather than for publication. Especially impressive are some of Neill's illustrations for The Road to Oz. They're among his most beautiful and elaborate, and the originals--significantly larger than the reproductions in books--let you see more details.

Among the latter-day Oz artists on display, I was most impressed with Charles Santore's work. Some of his double-page spreads seem overstuffed with objects, but if you shield your eyes from the jellybean colors you can pick out lots of nice touches. The picture of Dorothy throwing water over the Wicked Witch has a nice spare quality, in contrast. Not until I looked in a printed book did I recall that the tall, empty brown wall behind the figures, on the canvas so emblematic of the witch's dry lifestyle, was actually there to leave space for text. I think I actually like the image more than the page layout.

A couple of remarks in gallery labels that might questions, or eyebrows.

  • Denslow expected The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to be issued in 1899, so he prepared a copyright page illustration with that date. It was even printed in the book when it appeared--in 1900. The illustration is mounted at the gallery, the 1899 date as visible as ever, with a 1900 label to the side but no explanation of the discrepancy. See Hearn's Annotated Wizard of Oz for more details.
  • The 1928 Oz book wasn't named Anything of Oz as a label states. Neill created a mock cover with that title, and that nonchalance does reflect how steadily the series was selling. But, as the cover illustration mounted below shows, that book eventually got the title The Giant Horse of Oz.

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