Frist Art Museum Presents Eric Carle’s Picture Books: Celebrating 50 Years of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”

NASHVILLE, TN – The Frist Art Museum presents Eric Carle’s Picture Books: Celebrating 50 Years of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” an exhibition of more than one hundred original artworks by one of the most acclaimed and beloved illustrators of our time. Drawn from the Collection of Eric and Barbara Carle and organized by The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, the exhibition will be on display from October 18, 2019, through February 23, 2020.

Eric Carle (b. 1929), creator of more than seventy books, is world renowned for combining charming stories and colorful forms that appeal to young readers and adults alike. His signature artistic technique is collage, made by hand-painting sheets of tissue paper and then cutting, assembling, and gluing pieces onto illustration board.

The exhibition spans five decades of Carle’s picture-book career—from Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, his 1967 collaboration with author Bill Martin Jr., to The Nonsense Show, Carle’s playful ode to Surrealism, published in 2015. It pays special tribute to the 50th anniversary of Carle’s most popular book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and offers an in-depth look at his artistic process and the personal significance of many of his stories.

For half a century, Carle has inspired children to fall in love with books. While his stories are often lighthearted, they teach essential lessons, too. As children read about animals, families, and fables, they also learn their colors, letters, and numbers. Additional design elements—such as holes, flaps, and sounds—make reading accessible, multisensory, and fun.

Twenty-three of Carle’s books are represented in the exhibition. Published in 1969, The Very Hungry Caterpillar was just the second book that Carle both wrote and illustrated himself. Fifty million copies have sold, and the book has been translated into more than sixty languages. Like many of his other titles, The Very Hungry Caterpillar reflects Carle’s lifelong interest in the natural world, an appreciation he learned from his father. The caterpillar’s story is also a metaphor for childhood and growing up. “Many of Carle’s stories are rooted in his own life and are inspired by family members and friends, including Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me and Friends,” says Frist Art Museum Curator Trinita Kennedy.

Carle did not plan on a career in children’s books. He was born in Syracuse, New York, in 1929 and moved to Stuttgart, Germany, when he was six. He graduated from art school in Stuttgart and, for over a decade, worked in New York City as an art director and graphic designer. “Everything changed in the late 1960s when Bill Martin Jr., a respected educator and author, noticed one of Carle’s magazine advertisements featuring a red lobster,” says Kennedy. Martin had found the artist for his next book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, propelling Carle from working as an advertising executive to becoming a world famous author and illustrator.

This exhibition is the Frist’s first ever celebrating a children’s book illustrator and, like Carle’s books, it is designed with kids in mind. “Artwork will be hung lower than our norm to engage younger visitors. Copies of Carle’s books will be shelved in cozy nooks where families can read his stories together while surrounded by original artwork,” says Kennedy. In addition to English copies of the books, there will be Braille and foreign-language editions, with an emphasis on the most common languages spoken and studied in Nashville, such as French, Kurdish, Somali, and Spanish. An interactive family guide in English and Spanish offers both in-gallery and at-home learning activities as well as biographical information about Carle.

A short film showing Carle working in his studio provides insight into his innovative process, and a video of Carle reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar creates a virtual storytime with the author.
“All good children’s books also appeal to adults,” says Kennedy. “Visitors to this exhibition who are fine arts enthusiasts will recognize in Carle’s work affinities with European modernism, from Henri Matisse’s collages to the German Expressionist’s emotional use of color. Carle revels in the wordplay, visual puzzles, and nonsense of Surrealism as well.”

An array of public programming accompanies the presentation.

Exhibition Credit
Eric Carle’s Picture Books: Celebrating 50 Years of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” was organized by The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, Massachusetts.

Sponsor Acknowledgment
The Frist Art Museum is supported in part by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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Eric Carle. Illustration for The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Philomel Books). Collection of Eric and Barbara Carle, courtesy of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, MA.
© 1969, 1987 Eric Carle