Exhibit features the art of Oz

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

AMHERST Even if you've never read the books that gave birth to them, you know the characters of The Cowardly Lion, The Tin Woodsman, the Scarecrow and Dorothy, the plucky schoolgirl from Kansas.

The iconic images of the characters of "The Wizard of Oz" are being featured in a special exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

Now on display through Oct. 22, "The Wonderful Art of Oz" features original works by the first two Oz artists, W.W. Denslow and John R. Neill, as well as a number of other interpretations of the book's characters by artists including Andy Warhol, Barry Moser, Chris Van Allsburg and Eric Carle.

Museum Director H. Nicholas Clark explained the exhibit has been in the planning since 2004 and was timed to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Oz creator L. Frank Baum.

Although over-shadowed today by the 1939 movie adaptation of his book, Baum's series of "Wizard of Oz" books were bestsellers for children from the turn of the century through his death in 1920. The series was so popular that subsequent writers carried on the series through 1943.

During his life, Baum, whose background included writing for the stage as well as acting and managing a stage company, produced a successful theatrical version of his book. He produced a series of silent films as well as a comic strip based on his stories.

The exhibit focuses on the original graphic interpretations of the characters, but also how other artists have presented them.

Clark said the exhibit was made possible by the assistance of Michael Patrick Hearn, a noted authority on Baum who published "The Annotated Wizard of Oz."

Hearn's participation in the development of the exhibit meant that his fellow members of the International Wizard of Oz Club were more than willing to lend items for the exhibit. Clark noted, as an example, that the large silkscreen portrait of actress Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch in the 1939 film, was loaned by the late actress' son because of the exhibit's connection to the Hearn and the club.

Clark said the exhibit could have been larger because of the materials that were offered the Carle museum by Oz enthusiasts.

The original Denslow illustrations were loaned by the New York Public Library and Clark said the exhibit represents the largest collection of the art nouveau illustrations "since they left for the printer" in 1900.

Although the Oz books have gone through periods in which they were not considered the best of children's literature by librarians, said Clark, the characters and situations "still continue to engage."

Part of the purpose of the exhibit is "trying to cross boundaries," said Clark.

"[The exhibition] is not just confined to the art of the illustration of a book, but also how artists have embraced the characters, blurring the lien between illustration and fine art."

The Museum has several special events around the exhibit. On July 29 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., there will be a daylong celebration of all things Oz with a 11 a.m. screening of The Wizard of Oz, a 2 p.m. presentation of "Tornadoes, Twisters, and Pop-ups, Oh My!"- a book signing by pop-up book author and engineer Robert Sabuda and other events.

There is also a n Oz Summer Film series with a screening on July 30, 1 p.m. of "The Wizard of Oz" followed by L. Frank Baum; "The Man Behind the Curtain" on Aug. 6 at 1 p.m.; "Meet the Characters" on Aug. 13 at 1 p.m.; and "The Wonderful World of Oz Storybook" on Aug. 20 and 27 at 1 p.m.

The special events are free with museum admission.

The Carle Museum, located at 125 West Bay Rd., is open from 10 - 4 Tuesday through Friday, from 10 - 5 Saturdays and 12 - 5 Sundays. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors over the age of 65, $5 for youth ages one through 18, $5 for students (with current ID), $5 for teachers (with current ID) and $20 for families (up to two adults and two youths). Members and children under a year of age are free.