Mr. Mallard may not have been in the lead, but this summer, 75,000 visitors still made their way to Curtis Memorial Library in downtown Brunswick for the “Robert McCloskey: The Art of Wonder” exhibit. Visitors came from 49 states (all but Mississippi) and 22 countries. They ranged in age from a few months to 101 years old.
On Wednesday evening, the library was full of visitors for “An Evening with Nick Clark: A Museum Director’s Perspective on the Art and Illustrations of Robert McCloskey.” Clark is the curator of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, where he worked closely with McCloskey’s illustrations for an exhibit in 2016.
In his talk, Clark recounted anecdotes from McCloskey’s life that he uncovered during the curation process. McCloskey made certain that his illustrations were realistic, sketching blueberries in Maine and bears at Central Park Zoo for “Blueberries for Sal” and even adopting his own flock of ducklings for “Make Way for Ducklings.” Clark presented slides of McCloskey’s personal notes and early sketches and reflected on the power of children’s books.
“That final episode of ‘Make Way for Ducklings,’ they’re reunited by Mr. Mallard. That’s an important theme of McCloskey’s work … home and family at a time when the world is in such upheaval,” Clark said. “We’re in 2023, but this book still resonates so deeply.”
Clark grew interested in studying illustrations in 1993 when he and his late wife set out to curate exhibits on children’s books at the Chrysler Museum of Art in New York. They were met with skepticism.
“My wife was told: that’s not art. Happily, that has changed,” Clark said.
“The Art of Wonder” likewise highlights children’s books as their own form of art. In the children’s library, sketches from “Make Way for Ducklings” are featured, while watercolors from “Time of Wonder” highlight McCloskey’s skills as a painter. The main draw of the exhibit is a large mural from “Blueberries for Sal” above the library steps, painted by the Maine-based artist Pat Corrigan.
Development and Marketing Assistant for Curtis Memorial Library Elizabeth Snowdon ’17 said that much of the interest in the exhibit has to do with the books’ ties to the Maine community.
“While people from all over have connections to these stories, they are also very Maine-based. I grew up here and to me, these books are synonymous with Maine,” Snowdon said.
McCloskey purchased land off of Deer Isle in the 1940s and illustrated Maine life for decades. He remained at his home in Deer Isle until his passing in 2003. Today would have been his 109th birthday.
Melanie Mohney P’15 was drawn to Wednesday’s talk because of her love for McCloskey’s depiction of his two daughters’ Maine childhood in books like “One Morning in Maine” and “Blueberries for Sal.”
“I’m a reference librarian, but children’s books are my love,” she said. “‘Blueberries for Sal’ is hard not to love. Especially when you learn that McCloskey had two daughters, the way he captures children and their reactions, it’s very pure.”
A number of the attendees at Wednesday’s talk noted that it was their first time visiting Curtis Memorial Library, and many took the opportunity to check out books. Snowdon reflected that the exhibit has helped bring in new library card holders and emphasized the value of public libraries.
“These books have generationally influenced a lot of people, and we’ve received a lot of love and attention,” she said. “This exhibit is kind of our own storybook.”
Though Maine’s blueberry season ends in September, “Blueberries for Sal” will remain at Curtis Memorial until the close of the exhibit on October 15.