Monsters in the Bookshelf: Thacher Gallery’s installation is more lovable than scary

Thacher Gallery, located in the heart of Gleeson library, offers a unique opportunity for artists on exhibit. The location certainly doesn’t attract the usual art sophisticates one usually thinks of, but it does have the distinct advantage of having hundreds of individuals file through the gallery every day. What it may lack in standard art-associated class and atmosphere, it more than makes up for in the number of visitors. What makes it interesting though is the distinct makeup of such a large audience. Because the gallery is located in the middle of a college campus, the people who file past day after day are students- and unless they are studying art history, they tend to not be overly impressed by still pictures hanging on the walls.
Here though, is where this exhibit excels. Monsters in the Bookcase is an exhibit comprised of the work of children’s book illustrators, and the bright colors and overwhelmingly cheerful content is a breath of fresh air in a gallery that has recently held exhibits of student art that seems to have different students every semester, but all roughly the same artistic content.
Upon walking through the doors, one is greeted immediately by bright watercolors and the familiar figures of many of the Hanna-Barbera characters (think The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo). It’s hard not to feel immediately nostalgic for the days of being young and watching cartoons and having multitudes of books read to you- in fact, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a student who wouldn’t much rather have a story about dragons or talking animals read to them instead of trekking through the library looking for research material for their next term paper. In observing the gallery, it’s overwhelmingly common to see students pass through and pause to look at some of the art, exclaiming happily, “Oh, I remember this!”
The works in the exhibit, ranging from “my first drawing” style pictures from childhood to step by step pencil drawings of how characters comes to life to large scale watercolor paintings, come from a group called Studio 5- a group of children’s book illustrators based out of Orange County, California. The artists, such as Kim Dewell (famous for her illustrations of some modern Disney figures), Alice Provensen (a Caldecott award-winner), and Bob Singer (of Scooby-Doo, The Flintstones, and Yogi Bear fame), as well as about 5 or 6 others, absolutely covers the walls.
You can’t look around without seeing some work of art that impresses you with both its relatability and the skill with which it was created. Most of the works are original pieces- they’re the original watercolors or pencil drawings the artists created for the books; if there’s a critique for such a gem of an exhibit, it’s that while most of the works are originals, the majority of those by Bob Singer, arguably the most well known of the artists, are mostly reproductions- it was somewhat saddening that his pieces couldn’t be there in original form- as if they were too precious to be exhibited here. Some of the best works exhibited are the ones by the lesser-known illustrators; something about seeing the watercolors and acrylic paintings in the original works makes them seem all the brighter.
It’s hard to miss the gazebo in the middle of the space- lit with strands upon strands of Christmas lights and adorned with silk panel images of the pages of J.H. Everett’s latest work of illustration. Inside the gazebo are pillows so that one can sit inside and read the new books from the inside- a fully enveloping way to experience the work, and one that I can see students looking for a break from their studies fully enjoying.
The extra effort taken to really bring this exhibit into wide appeal is pretty special- at tiny tables around the exhibit are piles of children’s books for people of any age to peruse at leisure, and the little touches like rolls of stickers of the iconic childhood characters (I took 3!) and bar code scanners that enable people with smart phones to download some of these books really go the extra mile. On one table, there’s a notebook and some colored pencils, and while I agree that some forgetful student easily could have left them, I like to think that they were left on purpose, just in case a visitor was struck by a bit of childhood inspiration of their own.
Monsters in the Bookcase runs until December 16 in the Thacher Gallery, and though it’s a small exhibit, the enthusiasm of the art it holds will delight both the young and the young at heart.


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