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Exhibit showcases 130 years of children’s book illustrations.
NORTH LITTLE ROCK Like most of us, Jeff Baskin distinctly remembers one of his favorite books from childhood, The Taxi That Hurried. But it isn't the plot that stretches out over a whole 42 pages in the Little Golden Books classic that he recalls; it's the images.
“I don't even know the story anymore, but I remember the pictures,” he said.
And it is with that in mind that the executive director of North Little Rock's William F. Laman Public Library is “very excited” to welcome the institution's new exhibit, “Draw Me a Story,” a collection of 40 original illustrations from children's books stretching back 130 years. The exhibit opens Wednesday and continues through Aug. 11. Admission is free.
“I may move my office to the exhibit hall,” Baskin laughed as he anticipated the opening last week.
The exhibit is a touring show of Exhibits USA, curated by artist and illustrator Leslie A. Przybylek of the Mid-America Arts Alliance in Kansas City, Mo. Baskin said the library, even with its American Association of Museums quality exhibition hall, was lucky to get the show.
“It takes years of bookings to get the good shows,” he said. “A lot of shows will book two to three years in advance.”
“Draw Me a Story” is no exception, but an opening came up unexpectedly at just the right dates.
“We've really lucked into some phenomenal shows,” including this one, said Jamie Walden, public relations manager for the library.
The names of the artists featured in the exhibition are a veritable who's who of the field, including Where the Wild Things Are author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, as well as W.W. Denslow, illustrator of the original 1900 edition of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Oh, and there's work by Ralph Caldecott, too, who only has the country's annual top prize in children's illustration named after him.
Pencil or ink, simple or elaborate, the pieces come in all forms and highlight the changing trends in the medium of the last century plus, Baskin said. For example, older works tend to be more fantastic and incite the imagination. Newer ones, by contrast, are closer to truth. And while both might contain political overtones, in more contemporary works kids may even be expected to be in on the joke.
“It's really amazing how much more knowing we expect our children to be [in modern times],” Baskin said.
But whether new or old, seeing the original illustrations offers a chance to see the artists' minds and hands at work, Walden noted. Whether it's an eraser mark that doesn't come through on a final print or an image that's lost nuances of shading because the woodblock or metal plate used on the press degraded over time and lost clarity, the original works of art have more to appreciate about them.
Still, there are some 13 books included in the exhibit, so a little more than a quarter of the pieces can be appreciated both in the gallery and then immediately in the context of the book they appear in.
After all, Walden and Baskin explained, the exhibit is hanging to coincide with the library's summer reading program — for kids and adults — which attracted some 1,900 participants last year, up from 1,500 the year before. This year could top 2,000. All the books the pieces in the show are found in are available at the library.
A long-time lover of children's works, Baskin said he couldn't point to a favorite piece in the show, but Walden said he's most looking forward to seeing an image of Max from Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, a book he grew up with and still loves.
And that just goes to show the broad appeal of the exhibit, he said. Kids can come in to see pieces from the books they're reading and adults can find works they remember from childhood.
After all, it's usually those images that stay with us.
INFO TO GO:
What: Draw Me a Story
Where: William F. Laman Public Library
2801 N. Orange St., North Little Rock
When: Now through Aug. 11
Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed on Sundays.