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Make way for Robert McCloskey: Eric Carle Museum celebrates the art and words of “Make Way for Ducklings” author

  • McCloskey artwork in the May Massee Collection, Special Collections, Emporia State University Archives. Copies made for The Carle Museum, Amherst, Massachusetts. James R. Garvey—James R. Garvey

  • McCloskey artwork in the May Massee Collection, Special Collections, Emporia State University Archives. Copies made for The Carle Museum, Amherst, Massachusetts. James R. Garvey—James R. Garvey

  • McCloskey artwork in the May Massee Collection, Special Collections, Emporia State University Archives. Copies made for The Carle Museum, Amherst, Massachusetts. James R. Garvey—James R. Garvey

  • McCloskey artwork in the May Massee Collection, Special Collections, Emporia State University Archives. Copies made for The Carle Museum, Amherst, Massachusetts. James R. Garvey—James R. Garvey

  • Some of the artwork by Robert McCloskey on view at the Eric Carle Museum is from the May Massee Collection, Special Collections, Emporia State University Archives. Copies have made for the exhibit. James R. Garvey

  • A bronze statue of the ducklings by Nancy Schön is a popular attraction in the Boston Public Garden.

  • Final illustration for "People and papers and parcheesi games are puffed hair-over-eyes across the floor, while Father pushes and strains to close and bolt out the storm." Watercolor on paper, from "Time of Wonder" (The Viking Press, 1957). In the exhibit "Americana on Parade: The Work of Robert McCloskey" which will be on view through October 23 at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst. The show then moves to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Gazette Staff / KEVIN GUTTING

  • "...and then, after selecting a large wrench, he took out the spark plug." Graphite with taped text on tracing paper, from "One Morning in Maine" [The Viking Press, 1952]. In the exhibit "Americana on Parade: The Work of Robert McCloskey" which will be on view through October 23 at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst. The show then moves to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. —Gazette Staff / KEVIN GUTTING

  • "Men Sawing Wood" ca. 1930s, watercolor on paper. in the exhibit "Americana on Parade: The Work of Robert McCloskey" which will be on view through October 23 at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst. The show then moves to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. —Gazette Staff / KEVIN GUTTING

  • "As they came up the path to the village Mr. Condon was outside his garage, putting gas into a car." Graphite with taped text on tracing paper, from "One Morning in Maine" [The Viking Press, 1952]. In the exhibit "Americana on Parade: The Work of Robert McCloskey" which will be on view through October 23 at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst. The show then moves to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. —Gazette Staff / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Final illustration for "with a whale of a 'BURP!' boat and Burt, firm hand on the tiller, giggling gull flying along behind, make-and-break going wide open, came clackety-bangety out of the wide open mouth of the whale..." Watercolor on paper, from "Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man" (The Viking Press, 1963) Gazette Staff / KEVIN GUTTING

  • "Rowboats on Dock," ca. 1950s, oil on board, by Robert McCloskey Gazette Staff / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Preliminary sketch for "As they came up the path to the village Mr. Condon was outside his garage, putting gas into a car," graphite on tracing paper, for "One Morning in Maine" [The Viking Press, 1952]. In the exhibit "Americana on Parade: The Work of Robert McCloskey" which will be on view through October 23 at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst. The show then moves to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. —Gazette Staff / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mackenzie Cutler of North Adams and her YMCA campers view illustrations in the exhibit "Americana on Parade: The Work of Robert McCloskey." In foreground is a final illustration, watercolor on paper mounted on board, for the cover of "Time of Wonder" (The Viking Press, 1957). It appears inside the book with the text, "And then at sunset, with porpoises puffing and playing around your boat, you come about and set a course for the island that is home." Gazette Staff / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mackenzie Cutler of North Adams and her YMCA campers study illustrations for the final book Robert McCloskey wrote, "Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man", in 1963. Included in the exhibit "Americana on Parade: The Work of Robert McCloskey" which will be on view through October 23 at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst. At right is a preliminary sketch for "The Tidely-Idely is the pride and joy of Burt's life, and between odd jobs for natives and summer people he keeps her patched and painted as best he can." Graphite and watercolor on paper, from "Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man" [The Viking Press, 1963]. —Gazette Staff / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jim Donnelly of Bridgewater takes a close look at an illustration in the Robert McCloskey exhibit. The show will be up through Oct. 23 at the Carle before moving to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Gazette Staff / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Alternate for "The ducklings liked the new island so much that they decided to live there. All day long they follow the swan boats and eat peanuts." Colored pencil on tracing paper, from "Make Way for Ducklings" [The Viking Press, 1941]. In the exhibit "Americana on Parade: The Work of Robert McCloskey" which will be on view through October 23 at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst. The show then moves to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. —Gazette Staff / KEVIN GUTTING

  • "As soon as Mrs. Mallard and the ducklings were safe on the other side and on their way down Mount Vernon Street, Michael rushed back to his police booth," graphite on tracing paper, from "Make Way for Ducklings" Gazette Staff / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mackenzie Cutler of North Adams and her YMCA campers study an illustration for the final book Robert McCloskey wrote, "Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man,” in 1963. It is included in the exhibit "Americana on Parade: The Work of Robert McCloskey," which will be on view through Oct. 23 at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst. KEVIN GUTTING / Gazette Staff

Staff Writer 
Published: 9/15/2016 3:46:02 PM
Modified: 9/15/2016 3:45:31 PM

Among Boston’s famous landmarks — Paul Revere’s house, Fenway Park, Faneuil Hall, the U.S.S. Constitution — there’s also a smaller but popular attraction in the city’s Public Garden.

You need to look down, not up, for this one: a bronze mother duck, with eight little ones trailing behind her. Chances are you might know their names, or at least some of them — Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack.

They’re the family of web-footed travelers whom children’s author and artist Robert McCloskey made famous in “Make Way for Ducklings,” one of America’s most celebrated picture books and the official children's book of Massachusetts; it’s been translated into many languages over the years, as well.

And since “Ducklings” has turned 75 this year, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst is using the occasion to highlight the work of McCloskey (1914-2003), who also wrote about the Maine coast and small-town America, evoking a mid-20th century aesthetic that recalled something of Norman Rockwell.

“Americana on Parade: The Art of Robert McCloskey,” which runs through Oct. 23, features more than 90 original artworks and other material, such as photos of the artist playing the harmonica as a young man (his first book, “Lentil,” was about a harmonica-playing boy from a small Ohio town, much like that of Hamilton, Ohio, where McCloskey grew up).

Though much of the material comes from “Make Way for Ducklings,” the exhibit includes illustrations and paintings McCloskey did for his seven other original titles and the 12 books he illustrated for other writers, as well as paintings he did in his later career and as a student.

Ellen Keiter, the Carle’s chief curator, says McCloskey wasn’t especially prolific; he didn’t publish much past 1960 and generally stayed out of the limelight, instead spending much of his later years working on his prototype of a pre-Pixar, animated puppet.

But in just over 15 years, McCloskey won two Caldecott Medals (one was for “Ducklings”), the highest U.S. award for picture books, and he was the runner-up for three others.

“He was an amazing talent,” Keiter said. “Here it is, 75 years later, and [‘Make Way for Ducklings’] is still in print, still popular.” 

A close study

Though McCloskey spent most of his adult life in New York City and rural Maine, he lived in Boston from 1932 to 1935, studying at a now-closed art school on scholarship. His route to class took him through the Boston Common, where he’d often feed the ducks; that would later become the inspiration for his book.

As exhibit notes explain, McCloskey initially wanted to be a painter, and he won additional scholarships and prizes to continue his studies. But he lost some of those opportunities when World War II began, and he turned instead to children’s books.

May Massee, a children’s book editor in New York and the aunt of one of his high school classmates, suggested he concentrate on things he knew. McCloskey then spent a few years closely studying ducks — he even kept some in his New York apartment — so he could make accurate drawings for his “Ducklings” book.

The story, of course, concerns a “Mr. and Mrs. Mallard” who investigate Boston locales for starting a family. After the couple’s eight little ones are born on an island in the Charles River, Mr. Mallard goes off for a spell, and Mrs. Mallard leads her young charges through downtown Boston, with the help of a policeman who stops traffic for them. Mr. Mallard then rejoins the family in their permanent home in the Public Garden.

Keiter notes that the story had particular resonance in the early 1940s, as many American men went off for military service during WWII, leaving mothers to manage households alone for a number of years.

But what’s so compelling about the art in “Ducklings,” she adds, is the sense of humor and McCloskey’s attention to detail and fine eye: “He was classically trained.”

The exhibit features many of the drawings from the book, done in zinc plate lithography to cut expenses during wartime — which required McCloskey to execute his drawings in reverse.

“Think of what kind of skill that required,” Keiter said.

A reverence for nature

McCloskey would later work in pen and ink and watercolor, both in his own books and those he illustrated for others, such as “The Man Who Lost His Head” by Claire Huchet Bishop. The Carle show includes drawings from that story, in which the headless man knots his tie in front of a mirror, then later tries to substitute a parsnip for his missing noggin.

The artist had another big success with his 1948 book “Blueberries for Sal,” which celebrated both his young daughter Sally and the family’s summer home on a Maine island. For a sequel story, “One Morning in Maine,” the exhibit includes an early sketch in which McCloskey has shifted the position of his younger daughter, Jane, leaving the impression of her initial stance still visible.

One of the show’s highlights is the art from McCloskey’s second Caldecott winner, 1957’s “Time of Wonder,” in which he swapped his pens and pencils for a paintbrush; the soft watercolors offer an idyllic view of coastal Maine and of nature itself.

That sense of awe, even reverence that McCloskey had for the natural world still radiates from the story, says Keiter, who recalls “Time of Wonder” as one of her favorite books from childhood.

“That to me is one of his most lasting contributions,” she said.

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

“Americana on Parade: The Art of Robert McCloskey” is on view through Oct. 23 at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art at 125 West Bay Road in Amherst. For museum hours, ticket prices and additional information, visit www.carlemuseum.org.

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 




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