Children’s book art provokes nostalgia

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(Host) In 1947, Clement Hurd illustrated the popular and enduring children’s book,”Goodnight Moon.” That work now anchors a new exhibition at the Shelburne Museum called “From Goodnight Moon to Art Dog.” It’s a tribute to the talents of the late Clement Hurd, his wife Edith, and their son Thacher Hurd.

VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb was on hand for the exhibition’s debut.

(Wertlieb) The patrons who made their way up the pebbly dirt road to the Shelburne Museum’s Round Barn Welcome Center were pleased to find a spread inside that included vanilla frosted cake, sugared cookies, and red balloons. Not the usual fare for museum exhibition openings, but with many in the crowd in strollers or guided by a parent’s hand along the three levels of the barn’s wooden floors, the setting was just right.

On display were paintings of bunny rabbits in dresses, dogs wearing berets wielding paint brushes, and even an original 1939 edition of “The World is Round” – a children’s book written by Gertrude Stein, with pictures by Clement Hurd. Hurd illustrated some of his best known work while living in Starksboro. He bought a house there in 1950, and it was dubbed by a family friend as “The Peaceable Kingdom.”

He was also a member of the Shelburne Museum’s first Board of Trustees – Vermont ties that made the decision to display his family’s work an easy one, says the show’s curator, Karen Peterson.

(Peterson) “The museum president actually received a letter from Thacher Hurd last September indicating that he had a lot of his father’s artwork and had a lot of his own, that he knew that his father had been involved with the museum, and was wondering if we would ever be interested in this kind of exhibition. Well we couldn’t refuse, couldn’t resist, and it’s been a real joy for everybody to put together – especially seeing how it affects both kids and parents.”

(Wertlieb) And the show affects them in very different ways. While most parents stare at the art in remembrance of bedtime stories past, kids take advantage of the interactive displays, like the replica of the animal diner from Thacher Hurd’s “Mystery on the Docks.”

(Peterson) “We’ve had kids in here today and several times we’ve knocked on the door and basically they said ‘You can’t come in now, we’re too busy.'”

(Wertlieb) That kind of enthusiasm inspires Thacher Hurd’s work today, and was encouraged at an early age.

(Hurd) “I watched my father work. I used to go to his studio and watch him work and he would also let me work in his studio and I just kind of absorbed it by osmosis, I guess you could say.”

(Wertlieb) The 54-year old artist and author says while his artwork reflected his father’s influence early on, he quickly developed his own style:

(Hurd) “My pictures are a little louder, the colors are a little brighter, the stories are a little more crazy, I guess you could say. They seem to get crazier all the time.”

(Wertlieb) And many of those crazy stories are heavily influenced by the Green Mountain State.

(Hurd) “I’m very inspired by the Vermont landscape. I’ve done books about our place in Starksboro – I just find it a continuing source of inspiration. We have a woodchuck bothering our garden this year and I started to think ‘Well, hmmmmm… maybe he could appear in a book?'”

(Wertlieb) The jewel of the exhibition is a three-dimensional staged re-creation of the Great Green Room from “Goodnight Moon.” It brings to life in painstaking detail the simple yet mesmerizing tale of a young rabbit in striped pajamas who says “goodnight” to everything in his room before crawling into bed.

(Kids at the exhibit) “There’s the house!” “And what else do you see?” “And there’s mittens, and there’s the kittens, and there’s the bunny! And there’s another bunny!”

(Wertlieb) Kids weren’t the only ones bowled over by the display. Parents in particular experienced a most pleasant kind of d j vu:

(Parent) “My husband and I, as children our parents had read this book to us. We started reading this book to our children when they were six months old and we still do years later – read it to them every night.”

(Wertlieb) Thacher Hurd is continuing his family’s tradition of crafting memorable childhood stories with, as he admits, a “crazier” style. His latest book is called “Moo Cow Kaboom,” about a cow that gets kidnapped by aliens.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Mitch Wertlieb.

The exhibition “From Goodnight Moon to Art Dog” runs through October 26 at the Shelburne Museum.

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