Akron Art Museum
photo by Richman Haire
Do You Like Green Eggs and Ham? Drawings by Dr. Seuss
April 22 - August 13, 2000
Original artwork by Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known to generations as the beloved Dr. Seuss, will be on view at the Akron Art Museum this spring and summer. The books of Dr. Seuss have entertained and educated children and their parents for over half a century. In fabricating tales and bringing fantastic creatures to life in the imaginations of young and old alike, he gave us the likes of the Cat in the Hat, Yertle the Turtle and the Lorax.
This exhibition offers a unique opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at Geisel's creative process and a close-up look at his amazing sense of line and color. The show features around eighteen drawings, sketches and layouts from seven of his books:McElligot's Pool (1947), Horton Hears a Who (1954), The Cat in the Hat (1957), Green Eggs and Ham (1960), One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (1960), I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today! and Other Stories (1969) and The Butter Battle Book (1964). The artwork is on loan from the largest and most important archive of Geisel's work, the Dr. Seuss Collection of the Mandeville Special Collections Library, University of California, San Diego. (left: Green Eggs and Ham, TM & © Dr. Seuss Enterprises, LP 1960. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.)
The sketches allow us to see and appreciate Geisel's mastery of line drawing, which is far more evident here than in the printed versions of the same pages. Whether using pencil or pen and ink, Geisel needed just a few careful notations to bring his characters to life. Many of the drawings have tracing paper overlays that add color on top of the line drawings and feature Geisel's notes to the printer. Page layouts from McElligot's Pool show his skill at the difficult medium of watercolor.
Geisel, who was both author and illustrator, invented fabulous scenarios and unforgettably unique characters. But no matter how imaginative his creations, at their core always lay a grain of logic and truth. "A man with two heads," said Geisel in explaining his philosophy of children's literature, "is not a story. It is a situation to be built upon logically. He must have two hats and two toothbrushes...Children analyze fantasy. They know you're kidding them. There's got to be logic in the way you kid them. Their fun is pretending...making believe they believe it."
Dr. Seuss was born Theodor Geisel in Springfield, Massachusetts, on March 2, 1904. After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1925, he proceeded on to Oxford University with the intent of acquiring a doctorate in literature. At Oxford he met Helen Palmer, whom he wed in 1927. He returned from Europe in 1927, and began working for a magazine called Judge, the leading humor magazine in America at the time, creating both cartoons and humorous articles. Additionally, he was submitting cartoons to Life, Vanity Fair and Liberty. In some of his works, he'd made reference to an insecticide called Flit. These references gained notice, and led to a contract to draw comic ads for Flit. This association lasted 17 years, gained him national exposure, and coined the phrase "Quick, Henry, the Flit!"
He wrote his first children's book in 1936 on the way to a vacation in Europe. Listening to the rhythm of the ship's engines, he came up with And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, which was then promptly rejected by the first 43 publishers he showed it to. Eventually in 1937 a friend published the book for him, and it went on to at least moderate success.
During World War II, Geisel joined the army and was sent to Hollywood. Captain Geisel would write for Frank Capra's Signal Corps Unit (for which he won the Legion of Merit) and do documentaries (he won Oscar's for Hitler Lives and Design for Death). He also created a cartoon called Gerald McBoing-Boing, which also won him an Oscar.
In May of 1954, Life published a report concerning illiteracy among school children. The report said, among other things, that children were having trouble learning to read because their books were boring. This inspired Geisel's publisher and prompted him to send Geisel a list of 400 words he felt were important. Geisel was asked to cut the list to 250 words (the publisher's idea of how many words at one time a first grader could absorb) and write a book. Nine months later, using 220 of the words given to him, Geisel published The Cat in the Hat, which went on to instant success. This popular series combines engaging stories with outrageous illustrations and playful sounds to teach basic reading skills.
In 1980 Bennett Cerf bet Geisel $50 that he couldn't write an entire book using only fifty words. The result was Green Eggs and Ham. Cerf never paid the $50 bet. Helen Palmer Geisel died in 1967. Theodor Geisel married Audrey Stone Diamond in 1968. Theodor Seuss Geisel died 24 September 1991.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 and two Academy Awards, Seuss was the author and illustrator of 44 children's books, some of which have been made into audio cassettes, animated television specials, and videos for children of all ages. Even after his death in 1991, Dr. Seuss continues to be the best-selling author of children's books in the world.
This exhibition is organized by the Akron Art Museum and is made possible by the generosity of several anonymous donors.
Read more about the Akron Art Museum in Resource Library Magazine.
For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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