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Eric Carle Museum exhibits ‘Charlotte’s Web’ illustrations

  • The cover of the children's book "Charlotte's Web" is the only illustration that uses color.

    The cover of the children's book "Charlotte's Web" is the only illustration that uses color.

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART<br/>This illustration,done in the style of "Charlotte's Web" illustrations, is at the entrance to the exhibit the Eric Carle Museum.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART
    This illustration,done in the style of "Charlotte's Web" illustrations, is at the entrance to the exhibit the Eric Carle Museum.

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART<br/>This illustration,done in the style of "Charlotte's Web" artwork, is at the entrance to the exhibit the Eric Carle Museum.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART
    This illustration,done in the style of "Charlotte's Web" artwork, is at the entrance to the exhibit the Eric Carle Museum.

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART<br/>

    PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART

  • The cover of the children's book "Charlotte's Web" is the only illustration that uses color.
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART<br/>This illustration,done in the style of "Charlotte's Web" illustrations, is at the entrance to the exhibit the Eric Carle Museum.
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART<br/>This illustration,done in the style of "Charlotte's Web" artwork, is at the entrance to the exhibit the Eric Carle Museum.
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART<br/>

“Some Book! Some Art!: Selected Drawings by Garth Williams for ‘Charlotte’s Web’ ” is on view at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art through April 22, 2013.

For Williams’ 100th birthday and the E.B. White book’s 60th anniversary, the museum’s chief curator, Nick Clark, brought together a wide selection of original finished drawings and preliminary sketches, owned by collectors around the world, to create an exhibition that leads viewers through the illustration process of this beloved tale.

“Charlotte’s Web” is a masterpiece of children’s literature. Complete with graceful prose, meaningful life lessons and charming illustrations, the story has captured the hearts of children and adults since it was first published in 1952.

It’s an emotional tale about a naïve spring pig, Wilbur, who is destined for slaughter, and the efforts by his farm-animal friends to spare his life — led by Charlotte the spider, Wilbur’s confident, eight-legged companion.

Charlotte decides that fame is Wilbur’s surefire ticket to a long life and concocts a plan to attract attention to the good-hearted pig. By spinning words like “Some Pig” and “Terrific,” into her web, Charlotte weaves enough curiosity into the townspeople’s minds to turn Wilbur from appetizing to town attraction.

The exhibit, located in the museum’s Central Gallery, is set in an intimate way. The white walls and simple arrangement allow Williams’ 20 finished drawings and preliminary sketches to be unassuming, yet powerful. Walking through the quiet gallery, I was struck by memories of the touching story and felt my childhood stir inside my heart. Immediately attracted to the characters’ familiar faces, I remembered my fondness and worry for Wilbur and my admiration of the savvy Charlotte.

Williams’ illustrations are modest, yet exquisite. With all but the cover done in black pen, the drawings have a magical way of depicting the tale in a childlike yet poignant style.

The detail given to characters’ faces allows the reader to feel the emotions and connect even further with the story. Williams’ talent is brought most to light in the humanness of the animals’ expressions. Though they are farm animals, Williams and White created characters that are relatable, no matter the reader’s age.

The drawings, which were sold at auction in 2010 by Williams’ family, were dispersed far and wide after collectors from around the world purchased the memorable works. Clark, the Carle Museum curator, has brought many of them together, and though it is not a complete collection, the “Some Book! Some Art!” exhibit offers a rare opportunity to view many of the book’s original drawings in one place.

In the exhibit, preliminary sketches are paired with the final products. Some of the pieces are presented in the owners’ frames, which gives the display an eclectic and personal feel, as though one is peeking into the lives of those who care most about the illustrations.

Adding to the intimacy, many of the sketches have handwritten notes by Williams around the edges: Phrases like “make lines thinner” and “no eyebrows or nose” offer a revealing peek into Williams’ creative process.

One such pairing is the illustration from page 128 in the book, which depicts the farmhand, Lurvy, throwing a pail of water on Wilbur. The sketch and final drawing are prized at the Carle; they were the first art acquisitions made by the museum.

The child in each of us will rejoice as we see this classic tale unfold through the intimate display of Williams’ touching illustrations.

Across one of the gallery walls is an illustration of a large black spider’s web, done in the style of the book’s drawings. It reads: “Some Book! Some Art!”

This clever presentation of the show’s title sets the mood for the entire display.

If Charlotte were living in the museum, her web would no doubt read, “This exhibit is TERRIFIC!”

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