12 Jul Bronze sculpture to be unveiled at the Eric Carle Museum

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst will be home to an uncommon piece of work from the renowned late children’s book author and illustrator Leo Lionni. “Imaginary Garden,” a large bronze sculpture completed by Lionni in 1978, will be unveiled at The Carle on July 15. 
Carle, who considers Lionni his mentor, will be joined by Lionni’s grand-daughter, Annie Lionni, at the unveiling of the custom bronze sculpture at the museum. Carle and Annie Lionni will also lead a talk about Lionni’s life, with a reception to follow.

H. Nichols B. Clark, chief curator at The Carle Museum, said the relationship between Carle and Lionni began in the 50s. Carle credits Lionni with helping Carle to land his first job at the New York Times in 1952.

“They had a very similar aesthetic,” Clark said. “They were mindful of each other’s work and respected each other’s work.” Out of that relationship grew a close relationship with the Lionni family, which has given The Carle a body of Lionni’s work.

About a year ago, Clark said the museum received a call from Annie Lionni, who said the California museum at which “Imaginary Garden” was on display, had shut down. Clark said the museum had no budget for acquisitions, but a group of family friends pooled their resources and purchased the large bronze sculpture for the museum.

“We wanted it to have a place of prominence, so it’s going in the Great Hall,” Clark said of the bronze sculpture. “It is an imaginary garden, so it makes a wonderful transition from the inside to the outside.”

Clark said Lionni’s publisher, Random House, is funding the proper pedestal and protection for the piece, which is somewhat fragile. Clark said the piece is perfect for the museum. “Eric has always wanted some interesting sculpture to be part of the interior and exterior landscape of the museum, so this is a dream come true,” he said.

Clark said the bronze sculpture statue is reminiscent of Lionni’s 1977 book, Parallel Botany, with its surrealistic, other-worldly flora and fauna. “It’s a truly wonderful addition to the museum,” Clark said. “I know it’s going to meet with puzzlement, but it’s also going to meet with chuckles.”

Annie Lionni said many people don’t know that her grandfather, known for books such as Swimmy, Little Blue and Little Yellow, and Inch by Inch, worked in many media, and did children’s books mainly in his retirement. “Many of his explorations in different media really influenced the work he did in the other media,” Lionni said. “So, if you look through his children’s books, you will see flora and fauna that you might also see in his paintings and his bronze sculptures.”

Lionni said the scale and scope of the piece requires that it be in an institutional setting. “It supports the illustrations from his children’s books so nicely, I think it was important to us to try to give it a good home,” she said. “I am so much in love with The Eric Carle Museum, and they are the owners of the original art of several of my grandfather’s books, so it seemed like the right place.” Lionni said she hopes “Imaginary Garden” inspires people to take a closer look at her grandfather’s other work.

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