When the nationally traveling exhibition This is Our Land: Discovering America & the World Through Original Illustrations from Children’s Books came to town earlier this year, Utah was proud to have one of our own, Jean Arnold, among its artists (see February 2008). Now the Springville Museum of Art gives us much more to be proud of, with Unbound: Original Picture Book Art by Utah Illustrators.
The exhibition is the brainchild of Margy Layton, who, with her husband, ran the Red Leaf bookstore in Springville for eight years. While the bookstore was open, Layton enjoyed watching parents and children fall in love with illustrated books, many of which, she knew, were illustrated by artists with a connection to Utah. She suggested to Springville Museum of Art director Vern Swanson a show with all Utah illustrators and he invited her to curate it. “I loved the idea of connecting the artwork that children already know and love with the museum,” says Layton. “If children (or anyone) comes to the museum and sees familiar pieces there, they are more likely to think that museums can be a place for them. The exhibit is a bridge between the books and the museum.”
Unbound features 70 works by 27 artists, all of whom have had at least one nationally published book and have lived in Utah at some time. Layton did the legwork on tracking down all of them except one, the late E.J. Bird. The museum already had a number of his works in its permanent collection, including drawings from one of his children’s books.
On exhibit are the original works used for the illustrations. Visitors will recognize local artists like James Christensen and Robert Barrett. And children and parents will see the original illustrations to some of their favorite books like Kevin Hawke’s Weslandia, Brett Helquist’s Series of Unfortunate Events and Mark Buehner’s Fanny’s Dream.
In addition to the original pieces, the exhibit includes a sub-exhibit called “Will Terry Illustrates a Book” that illustrates one artist’s process from the time he receives a manuscript through the printing of the book. And because, as Layton explains, “the actual books are the final ‘pieces of art’ she created a reading area in the center of the gallery (complete with a cozy couch and rug) with a bookshelf full of books represented with pieces in the exhibit. Through December 13, every Saturday morning at 11:00 the reading area will host a different artist for story time. “This gives us an opportunity to focus on a specific artist and give people the opportunity to meet him/her and ask questions,” Layton says.
Parents and children alike will certainly enjoy the opportunity Unbound provides to see the original art that make children’s books such a delight. And the Saturday morning story times may be the perfect time for parents to drop the children off while they sneak a peak at the other exhibits at the museum.
Unbound: Original Picture Book Art by Utah Illustratorscontinues at the Springville Museum of Art through December 28. For more information on this and other exhibits at the museum, visit www.smofa.org. For specific events related to Unbound, check out the exhibit’s blog.