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Eric Carle Museum hosts exhibit of artist's private works

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART<br/><br/>"Bridge I, Bridge II, Bridge III" by Eric Carle

    PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART

    "Bridge I, Bridge II, Bridge III" by Eric Carle

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART<br/>Eric Carle's "Four Easy Pieces"

    PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART
    Eric Carle's "Four Easy Pieces"

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART<br/>Examples of Eric Carle's photography are included in the exhibit "Beyond Books: The Independent Art of Eric Carle."

    PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART
    Examples of Eric Carle's photography are included in the exhibit "Beyond Books: The Independent Art of Eric Carle."

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART<br/>Eric Carle at work

    PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART
    Eric Carle at work

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART<br/>Porcupine metal sculpture, based on a character created by Eric Carle

    PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART
    Porcupine metal sculpture, based on a character created by Eric Carle

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART<br/><br/>"Bridge I, Bridge II, Bridge III" by Eric Carle
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART<br/>Eric Carle's "Four Easy Pieces"
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART<br/>Examples of Eric Carle's photography are included in the exhibit "Beyond Books: The Independent Art of Eric Carle."
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART<br/>Eric Carle at work
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART<br/>Porcupine metal sculpture, based on a character created by Eric Carle

You’ve seen his signature work: the colorful collages of hungry caterpillars, quiet crickets, lonely fireflies and other creatures. But Eric Carle, a former Northampton resident who now lives in North Carolina, has long been entranced by a range of art that goes beyond the illustrations and creations of his best-selling children’s books.

Now the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst is set to display a different side of Carle: paintings, photography, sculpture and other work he has created over the years, primarily for family and friends.

Last week, the artist’s namesake museum opened “Beyond Books: The Independent Art of Eric Carle,” an exhibit of more than 80 of Carle’s private works, some inspired by trips abroad, others done in homage to favorite artists as well as examples of the street photography Carle has taken up in recent years — odd details and landscapes he’s photographed during walks around his neighborhoods.

All of the work, says Nick Clark, the museum’s chief curator, displays the artistic trademarks Carle has long been known for: his interest in texture, his use of mixed media and above all his fondness for color combinations.

“He’s constantly playing with his materials,” Clark said in a recent interview at the museum. “He cuts and manipulates paper and other materials to get different textures, and there’s always a big emphasis on color. For Eric, there aren’t enough colors in the universe.”

Though not specifically designed for the occasion, the new show will be running when the museum celebrates its 10th anniversary in November with the opening of another exhibit highlighting, for the first time ever, its permanent collection of picture-book art. Over the weekend of Nov. 10-11, the museum will also host a reception for many of the artists featured in the show, as well as a public book signing, which Carle is expected to attend.

The complete Eric Carle

Clark says he hopes “Beyond Books” will give visitors a more complete look at Carle as an artist.

His career began in the 1950s when he became a graphic designer with the promotions department at The New York Times. He later took a job as art director for a New York City advertising company.

Even before that, he was designing covers for books and publications, like informational packets for German readers when he worked in the former West Germany for the U.S. Information Agency. Those earlier works feature some of the lines and shapes that would come to define Carle’s later art, Clark noted.

“For a long time, he was doing his own art on the side while he worked in the commercial art field for a living,” he said. “Then he got promoted along the way and his responsibilities increased, and at some point he realized he really wasn’t working in art anymore.”

The exhibit focuses on art that Carle created privately over the past 30 years, following the great success he had in the late 1960s and ’70s, with children’s books like “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” “Do You Want to Be My Friend?” and “The Grouchy Ladybug.” That success, Clark says, gave Carle time to explore things on the side.

“This was his way of winding down,” Clark said. “He could experiment with things that were outside the deadlines and restrictions of picture-book art. ... I think seeing this other work gives us a better understanding of how he approaches the illustrations that made him so famous.”

For instance, the show will feature costumes and sets that Carle designed for a 2001 staging of the Mozart opera “The Magic Flute” by the Springfield Symphony. It will also have examples of gifts he made for friends and family members, such as collages that spell out a person’s name. There’s a tribute to the reclusive Italian still-life painter Giorgio Morandi which features the muted grays, blues and greens Morandi favored.

“Kimono I, II, III” was inspired by a trip Carle took to Japan, with each part consisting of two panels of colorful, uncut painted tissue paper; one panel is arranged vertically, the other horizontally, suggesting the look of a kimono.

Other items include detailed photos of mottled metal surfaces — at first glance, they look like abstract paintings — and explorations of three-dimensional forms, including metal and plastic sculptures and collages.

“One of the things that’s so appealing about his work is the way he continues to look at different ways to use texture and modulate the colors,” Clark said.

Grace Glueck, a former art critic for The New York Times, notes in the exhibition’s catalog that in making of these abstract collages, Carle used some of the same techniques he employed for his children’s book illustrations.

“But rather than being built into recognizable shapes,” Glueck writes, “the snippets are coaxed into compositions of colors ranging from hot to calm, from harmonies to dissonances, in tones that can suggest joyous shouts or delicate whispers.”

Although the museum has periodically displayed examples of Carle’s private work, staff had not been able to persuade him to allow a full show of the material.

Carle was hesitant about displaying his private work, wondering if people would take it seriously. He even jokingly suggested it be called “Art Art,” Clark said.

But two years ago, an old family friend, Stephanie Stebich, director of the Tacoma Art Museum in Tacoma, Wash., visited Carle in North Carolina, saw some of Carle’s alternate art projects and convinced him he should have a show of them, Clark said.

“That was the opening we were looking for,” Clark said.

After “Beyond Books” closes at the Carle Museum in late February, the exhibit will move to the Tacoma Art Museum.

Visitors to the Amherst museum in the next several months expecting to see Carle’s signature creations, like the Hungry Caterpillar, will still be able to see a series of lithographs based on the original collages. They can also view the four massive, Jackson Pollock-inspired murals that Carle did for the museum’s opening in 2002, which are on display in the main hallway.

“We think those will serve as a very good introduction to this other side of Eric Carle,” Clark said.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

“Beyond Books: The Independent Art of Eric Carle” runs through Feb. 24, 2013, at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $9 for adults, $6 for children under 18 and $22.50 for a family of four. Call 658-1100 or visit www.carlemuseum.org for more information.

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Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst celebrates 10th anniversary

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Over half a million visitors. A permanent collection of over 10,000 illustrations from major book artists such as Maurice Sendak and William Steig. Over 50 special exhibitions staged, highlighting work by Dr. Seuss, A.A. Milne and other children’s authors. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst has compiled impressive statistics since it opened in November 2002, becoming … 0

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