Exhibitions at the Eric Carle Museum and at Mt. Holyoke

Western Mass Art: Catch it Now!

It's Me Eloise: The Voice of Kay Thompson and the Art of Hilary Knight
Eric Carle Museum (Amherst)
Through June 4, 2017

140 Unlimited
Mount Holyoke College Museum of Art (South Hadley)
Through May 28, 2018 (and beyond) 


I did not grow up with Eloise, the slightly naughty, slightly precocious, and the exceedingly privileged little girl who lived in the Plaza Hotel with rich parents that mostly fobbed her off on her nanny. I intend no sexism when I say that Eloise books weren't exactly normal fare for little boys back in the days when I was one. All of what I know about the franchise is secondhand via my wife and it was of the variety that nearly made me opt out of a visit to the Eric Carle Museum. I'm glad I didn't.

The current exhibit is a totally charming display of book graphics, story mockups, magazine covers, and spinoffs covering the years 1947 to the present. The first date surprised me, as the first Eloise book didn't appear until 1954. I was unaware that Thompson was already a radio star before she began authoring children's books devoted to her diminutive heroine. Nor did I know that the Eloise books evolved from a radio persona she assumed in 1947. Think something akin to Lily Tomlin's Edith Ann character. The Eric Carle Museum has several headphones stations where we can hear Thompson portraying Eloise on the air, as well as a middle-of-the-room section devoted to Eloise on radio, records, and stage.

The outside walls of the gallery are devoted to photos, text panels, and artwork. We learn first about Thompson, who lived in the Plaza for much of starlet days and had a stubborn streak of her own. I simply had no idea of her days as a singer on Bing Crosby radio shows in the 1930s, or of her Broadway and movie work. We also learn of Hilary Knight to whom I had previously paid so little attention that I failed to note the single L in the first name and assumed to be a woman. But Eloise is the star of the exhibit—in all of her various franchise turns—books, recordings, TV shows, musicals, toys, games, and assorted paraphernalia—that outlived her creators. Yes, she is a snooty little toff, but her spunk and insouciance are enough to melt the class barriers of a Maoist. So too are the hilarious predicaments in which she embroils herself. It's easy to understand her appeal to spirited little girls. Take one with you if you can but if not, go anyhow. All you need is a young attitude; It's Me Eloise is for kids young and old. 


Addario, Two Burqas
The Mount Holyoke College Museum of Art (MHCMA) recently celebrated its 140th birthday. Years before that event, college curators had the inspired idea to collect 140 new objects to display during the birthday bash. The MHCMA, though not a pauper, lacks the sizable endowments that periodically refresh the galleries of Smith, Yale, Harvard, or Amherst. In practical terms this meant the MHCMA had to collect smart, cultivate donors, and work closely with faculty to discuss topics such as inclusiveness, worthiness, and usefulness of items as future teaching tools. Try doing all of that on a limited budget. The result is quite impressive.

One way to keep costs in line is to buy photographs. I'm not wild about the minor Joel Meyerowitz offerings, but there are stunning shots by others, especially work done by shutterbugs such as Lynsey Addario and Pieter Hugo in Africa, and by Livia Corona in Mexico. Check out the story behind Addario's shot titled "Two Burqas;" it's too good for a spoiler.    

Andy Warhol
The rest of the objects are a delicious Mulligan stew that includes works from Chuck Close, Andy Warhol, a mesmerizing Mannerist painting of Judith and Holofernes by Benton Spurance, and known and lesser-known Old Masters. There also objects ranging from Classical antiquities and African masks to an Asian Buddha and Pueblo ceramics. The overall effect is more like sorting through the backroom of an art auction house than the stiff formalism of a museum.

As an integrated group this exhibit closes in a few short weeks, but the MHCMA now owns these items and many are sure to become longtime favorites.

Rob Weir

Benton Spurance
Chuck Close
Pueblo Ceramic

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