Aiming To Inspire Young Artists, Illustrators Put Professionals' Childhood Art On Display

Dec 13, 2019

A new exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, shows drawings made by picture book illustrators when they were kids. 

I got a peek behind the scenes with co-curators and illustrators Jarrett J. Krosoczka and Grace Lin. They were still working out the final details a few days before opening day.

Children are encouraged to interact with the show at the exhibit, creating their own art and hanging it on a refrigerator door.

Jarrett J. Krosoczka, illustrator: They can also look through the books that we've written and illustrated now — and also thumb through copies of books that we wrote as kids, too.

Grace Lin, illustrator: Yes. Including the one that I made when I was in seventh grade. And I think we'll have little prompts on the wall, too. So it should be a pretty interactive exhibit.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: So you've spent how long getting this gallery space ready for the opening?

Krosoczka: Well, the beautiful thing about the Carle is they have this amazing team that actually hung the work, located and sourced all of the refrigerators and all of these materials. But we've been meeting over months to talk about what our vision might be. And I think it was maybe the summer of 2017 when Grace and I sat down to say, "Let's put together a show and pitch it to the Carle, and see what artists we might want to include."

Lin: So it has been a long time in the making, but it hasn't been intensive time. It has been kind of like here and there, and here and there. It's only now that it's all becoming very intensive.

You both have artwork in the show. Jarrett, would you mind showing me what you have, and talk me through that?

Jarrett J. Krosoczka stands next to his displayed artwork as a fifth grader (top) and his contemporary work (bottom).
Credit Carrie Healy / NEPR

Krosoczka: Sure. The big thing that we asked people to do was to find artwork from childhood and their adult lives, where there would be a direct connection. And it's amazing, because you really go through and you look at every single piece, and you see that thread of who they became right there in their early work.

So what what I chose to include was work from my "Lunch Lady" graphic novels. It's a very campy series about a lunch lady who fights crime. And the series was inspired, in part, by comics I made as a fifth grader. So when I figured out the lunch lady's story that I had been working on needed to be told as a comic, I had reread the comics I wrote as a fifth grader. I emulated that direct, campy language. I mean, I was watching a lot of the Adam West "Batman" on reruns when I was a kid. So I chose a comic that I made in fifth grade, which ironically, also has a superhero with with yellow gloves next to what kids know me for.

And Grace, you have work in the show, too?

Lin: Yeah, mine is over here. I think what's so interesting, and one of the themes of our show, is that every artist's journey is very different, and everybody has a different one. For me, when I look at my art and then I see my childhood [art], I'm like, "Wow, it looks like the transition was a lot smoother than how I remember."

So I think that might be how it is for a lot of these artists. But the fact that so many of us had our childhood art, I think kind of goes to show that even at a young age, we valued what we were doing, and probably our parents were valuing it as well. So that just goes to show how adults can foster their children's interests.

Grace Lin stands next to her displayed artwork as a seventh grader (top) and her contemporary work (bottom).
Credit Carrie Healy / NEPR

Krosoczka: It's something I struggle with, too. And Grace, I'm sure you feel the same way now as a parent — you're like, "How am I going to save all of this stuff?" And I realize I really value the art that I have saved as a kid, and not just because I'm a professional artist, but because I remember the joy it brought me. I remembered sitting on the floor of my grandparent's living room or at their dining room table and drawing. Hopefully the show, too, will encourage parents who are looking to clean house to save some of that artwork that they're ready to toss into the recycling bin just because they're going mad for space.

Lin: My childhood piece is actually from a book that I did in seventh grade that actually has inspired my entire career as a children's book author and illustrator. It was this big book contest where you wrote and illustrated your own book, and if you won first place, they would actually publish your book. But after winning fourth place, I was so excited, I decided I want to be an author and illustrator forever. So that's kind of why I really want to put something from this in there.

I wonder if the original mount was like what you kind of preserved it with, or was that just for this gallery show?

Lin: Yes, mount is actually a page of the book. And I think I glued the original painting onto it with, like, rubber cement — like, the most un-archival thing ever. I think even back then, there is a kind of reverence for art, even as a child, even your own art. Like, "I did this. I'm so proud of it," you know, and putting the lines around it, and kind of treasuring that.

I think that also goes to show we loved art at such a young age, and we valued it at such a young age. And I think that's probably why so many of us, or all of us in this show, grew up to be artists.