Books 30 Dec 2007 09:55 am
- Yesterday, we went to the Jewish Museum on the upper East Side of Manhattan to see the exhibit of William Steig‘s works. Unfortunately, like most other New York buildings, (pictured on the left) there’s a scaffold surrounding the museum, with some kind of construction going on. On Saturdays, entrance is free, so you’ll note the long line to enter. Within, there’s an overly cautious search of your property to make sure you’re not trying to sneak in with a bomb.
On display were many of his original cartoons as well as original color illustrations for the many children’s books he wrote and illustrated. The exhibit included a lot of roughs as well as dummy copies of several books – including Doctor DeSoto.
They dressed up several rooms with wall-sized images from the books as well as copies of the books to view, and there were people with kids strewn about the floor.
I’m sorry it didn’t occur while Steig was still alive. When I first got out of the Navy in 1970, I came upon a small exhibit of his New Yorker cartoons at a rare-book seller’s shop (no longer there.) I was so taken by the drawings that I used all my money at the time, $75.00, to buy the least expensive (and my favorite) one of the pictures. Years later when I told him about the drawing I’d bought, he knew exactly which one it was. He said that’s the only picture bought at that show.
At the Jewish Museum, I learned early on that I wasn’t allowed to photograph the pictures. I still took a few pictures on the sly and have tried to clean them up for this post.
“Are we too early?”
An early New Yorker cartoon drawn before the arrival of
William Shawn as editor of the magazine.
There were a number of Steig’s black & white drawings from his books, The Lonely Ones and Small Fry. These were originally collections of New Yorker cartoons.
The Lonely Ones cartoons reflect the influence of Wilhelm Reich and his unusal psychoterapy. Steig was an ardent follower, and the “Orgone box” appears in many of the illustrations or as subtext to many of the children’s books.
In the first room you entered, there was a beautiful New Yorker image of many faces.
Later in the show, this image was enlarged to wall-size, and several of the faces opened
for kids who wanted to interact with the masks.
Many of his children’s books were well represented. Abel’s Island, above left, and
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, above right, were shown. There were some excellent images from The Amazing Bone. (I almost thought I was looking at artwork from my film;
it was the exact same size.)
There were a couple of images from the stunningly beautiful book, Brave Irene. This is the one book I wish I could’ve animated.
The final room included a number of images from Steig’s book, Shrek. It isn’t one of my favorites of his books, but the paintings still are excellent. On a wall opposite were drawings and sketches by several of the Dreamworks artists and their versions of the character. A table in the center of the room displayed a couple of sculptures of the ugly character from the films.
It’s bad enough that the beautiful illustrations of Steig are trashed for the ugly repre-
sentations in those films, but to complete a retrospective of the man’s art with that left a bad taste in my mouth. Obviously, Dreamworks must have helped finance the exhibit. I didn’t take any more pictures in this final room.
The exhibit is attractive and it’s a good way to see Steig as an artist. The art is small, so if there’s a crowd there can be a small wait. However, it’s worth any troubles. There was a book, The Art of William Steig. It was Saturday, and the bookstore was closed, and I wasn’t able to buy one. Perhaps when I do, I’ll post more of the images from this show.