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The Berenstain Bears Celebrate: The Art of Stan and Jan Berenstain
In 1962, illustrators Stan and Jan Berenstain published the first of many stories chronicling the adventures of a family of bears. The Berenstain Bears would go on to become one of the most successful children's book series of all time, with worldwide sales of more than 240 million books. At least four generations of children have eagerly followed the Berenstain Bears' exploits. Along the way, these young readers have picked up gentle life lessons with themes ranging from junk food and messy rooms to such complex issues as truth and the concept of God. Now, for the first time, a major museum exhibition will focus on the series' prolific creators in the Norman Rockwell Museum's presentation of The Berenstain Bears Celebrate: The Art of Stan and Jan Berenstain. The exhibition, sponsored by BerkshireBank, will open at the Norman Rockwell Museum on February 8, 2003, and will run through May 26, 2003. (left: Study for "Here Comes the Bears" ©1968 by Berenstain Bears, Inc.)
"Like Norman Rockwell, the Berenstains have the extraordinary ability to communicate universal experiences and uplifting messages," says Museum Director Laurie Norton Moffatt. "We are pleased to have the opportunity to pay tribute to their talent and great success with this entertaining and informative exhibition."
This retrospective examines the lives and careers of the husband-and-wife team and their evolution as artists, from their earliest drawings to their most recent works. Spotlighting the Berenstains' influences, iconography, and techniques, the exhibition includes original drawings, paintings, collectibles, and a book presented in storyboard format. Special interactive stations for young visitors include: "What is a Gag Cartoon?", a fun-filled matching game; "Read Along with Stan and Jan," an audio station where children can read a Berenstain Bears story aloud with the authors; an "Inside, Outside, Upside Down" box to explore; a life-sized floor game in which participants act as the game pieces on a journey through Bear Country; and a Bear Expressions drawing center, where visitors can put their best bear faces forward with a drawing lesson from the Berenstains. A family guide for the exhibition-as well as educational programs for students, children, and families-will be offered throughout the run of the exhibition. Special activities at the Museum from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on the exhibition's opening day, Saturday, February 8, include a book signing by Jan and Stan Berenstain, interactive exhibition tours, and hand-on art activities. (left: "Art Museum," Cover illustration for "Collier's" magazine, ©1951 by Berenstain Bears, Inc.)
David Leopold, co-curator of the exhibition along with Stephanie Plunkett, the Museum's associate director of exhibitions and programs, notes, "The enduring popularity of the Berenstain Bears is based on a combination of wholesomeness, humor, and authenticity. The Berenstains' books revolve around family dynamics, and I think that's why they are so popular with parents and children in more than 50 countries."
About Stan and Jan Berenstain
The Berenstains, both 79, met as students on their first day of classes at the Philadelphia College of Art in 1941; they married five years later. From the beginning, the couple worked as a team, finding early success as gag cartoonists for such magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, and The Saturday Review of Literature. Drawing upon their own domestic experiences for inspiration, the Berenstains soon produced a series of best-selling humor books based on family-oriented themes. Through the Berenstain Bears series, which debuted with The Big Honey Hunt, in 1962, Stan and Jan Berenstain have championed their belief in the importance of family to readers the world over. The foundation for these early works, which explored the challenges that families face, came from children's book legend Theodor Seuss Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss), who was then the couple's editor at Random House. In 1973, the Berenstains began writing and illustrating First Time Books (also published by Random House), a series of stories designed to help children learn to read. (left: Illustration for "Old Hat New Hat," ©1970 by Berenstain Bears, Inc.)
This past September, to coincide with the 40th-anniversary celebration of the first Berenstain Bears book, Random House published the couple's autobiography, Down a Sunny Dirt Road. The statistics of their success complement the story: 35 books in the series have made the Publishers Weekly list of the top 250 children's book titles of all time, with 15 books placing among the top 100 best-selling children's paperbacks. Through the years, the Bears have been featured on their own CD-ROM, numerous television specials, and a weekly cartoon series on CBS. A new animated PBS series inspired by the Berenstain Bears will premiere on Canadian television this fall, and in the United States in January.
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