Anyone who knows the slightest thing about children’s books will get a real kick out of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts.
And if the name Eric Carle doesn’t ring a bell, then surely his vibrant collage-style illustrations will — particularly his images from the 1969 classic, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” that has sold 17 million copies and has been translated into 30 languages.
On a trip up north this past fall, Madeleine (age 10) and I got a tour of this impressive facility and realized this was going to be one extraordinary visit.
The museum houses well over a thousand of its namesake’s original collages, sketches and manuscripts. Its mission is to promote all picture book art and as such, The Carle features rotating exhibits of national and international guest artists such as Maurice Sendak, Lucy Cousins and Chris Van Allsburg. There’s an interactive studio and regularly scheduled reading events.
Even the setting of this 44,000-square-foot museum is far from typical — an apple orchard on 7.5 acres donated by nearby Hampshire College. Once inside the attractive building, thoughtful and whimsical touches abound, from the heated floors calling you to hunker down with a good read, to the urinals in the men’s lavatory with their clever Eric Carle artwork (bug illustrations) painted into the ceramic bowl as an intentional ‘target.’
Kids Stay Busy at The Eric Carle Museum
Because the museum showcases the art-making process, original art from the illustrators’ studios such as sketches, end papers, layout dummies, is mounted and exhibited. Art is hung a bit lower than standard museum height to accommodate young viewers, and a box on a bench in each of the three galleries contains copies of the books that actually correspond to the sketches on the wall.
Should you tire from looking at all of that art, a studio offers budding artists the opportunity to try their hand at collage and watercolor illustration techniques, a 130-seat auditorium hosts puppet shows, films and lectures by visiting artists, and a picture book library, bookstore and cafe are all on hand.
The Eric Carle Museum is the kind of place that will tickle visitors of all ages, bringing young and old together through a kind of ‘nostalgic art appreciation.’
Madeleine and I can’t wait to return.
Trip Planning Details for an Eric Carle Weekend
The Eric Carle Museum is located at 125 West Bay Road, Amherst, MA 01002 next to the Hampshire College campus. To avoid weekday groups, plan your visit in the afternoon.
For information about places to stay and other local activities, here’s Allison Tibaldi’s account of her family weekend in the Pioneer Valley.
For more information about the region, some of the most scenic areas to cruise around with the kids and other lodging options, contact the folks at the Massachusetts State Tourism Board.
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