Do you remember that bedtime ritual — being nestled into the comforting crevice of a shoulder, learning each line of a story word for word, and falling in love with the Poky Little Puppy, Tawny Scrawny Lion, and Scuffy the Tugboat?
You and 2 billion children all over the world. That's how many kids are estimated to have read Little Golden Books since they were introduced in 1942.
"For a lot of people, Little Golden Books are one of the first books we ever owned as children," says Heidi Kenney. "That familiar, decorated spine in black and gold — I think it brings up a sense of belonging: the books to us, us to the books... People who grew up reading Little Golden Books all share that sense of comfort and nostalgia when they see the books."
Kenney is no stranger to childhood nostalgia. The D.C.-born, Pennsylvania-based artist, curator, and mom has collaborated with designer-toy retailer Kidrobot and has been running her popular crafting blog, My Paper Crane, for more than ten years. Now, she has teamed up with Amanda Magnetta-Ottati, owner of Bear and Bird Boutique + Gallery in Lauderhill, to curate the whimsical "Little Golden Years" exhibition, which is opening this Friday. Thirty-five artists and illustrators offer reinterpretations of characters and themes found in the book series.
The idea for the show was partly inspired by Kenney's love of vintage children's books. "I've been collecting vintage kids' books for over 11 years now and probably have around 300 books," she says. In addition to sifting through her personal collection for books to use in the show, she hit up local used-book shops for more titles to include.
"The stories are sometimes comically dated and sometimes timeless in their subject matter," Magnetta-Ottati says. "It was my goal with this show to have artists read over the text in these stories and create new artwork inspired by the messages in them. I hope that seeing the artwork brings back a sense of comfort and wonder that they felt as a child while being read Little Golden Book stories."
All of the participating artists were commissioned to create new pieces specifically for the show. A few are local, but most are far-flung, coming from the curators' impressive network of artist friends.
Susie Ghahremani is a 2002 graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in illustration. Her commissions include editorial work (New York Times, GQ, and Nickelodeon Magazine) and corporate clients (Bank of America, Target, T-Mobile), but she also designed a Bon Voyage Travel Journal published by Chronicle Books ("based on a handmade journal I made for myself for my honeymoon in 2010," she says) and a picture book, What Will Hatch? Ghahremani eschews digital tools; instead, her illustrations are executed with a tiny paintbrush and a steady hand, combining her love of nature, animals, music, and patterns.
The four miniature paintings Ghahremani has contributed to the "Little Golden Years" show depict playful, anthropomorphic animals — hallmarks of both her own work and Little Golden Books. "I'm trying to bridge the connection between the two with my pieces," she says. She selected two of her favorite Little Golden Book illustrators — Richard Scarry and Mary Blair — as inspiration for her modern interpretations for the show. She hopes her tender renderings will remind people of art's power to cheer.
Ryan Berkley of Berkley Illustration, based out of Portland, Oregon, is another illustrator whose whimsical, anthropomorphized animal characters add a smart and playful element to the show.
A self-taught artist who works alongside his wife to create custom-illustrated works for sale through Etsy.com, Berkley first got into illustration as a child. "My grandfather was an illustrator, and I always loved what he did," he says. "Being a huge fan of comic-book art and general illustration as a kid, coupled with drawing skill, led me to the path I am on. I love it and wouldn't choose any other profession."
Berkley chose the Little Golden Book Animal Orchestra as the inspiration for the series of works he's contributed to the exhibition. He says, "I wanted to showcase a few of the colorful, well-dressed animals and their instruments in my style" — which is like an old-fashioned formal portrait, painted from the bust up.
Father to a 1-year-old daughter, Berkley has spent hours reading to his little girl, so participating in this show has really resonated with him — and he wants audiences to get the same experience he's gotten from Little Golden Books. "I want them to smile when they see it... or to see a book they might be nostalgic about in a different light."
Ontario-based artist, illustrator, and crafter Rosemary Travale contributed a piece based on the Little Golden Books version of the classic children's fable Rumpelstiltskin. "The story really confused me as a child," Travale says of her decision to reinterpret Rumpelstiltskin. "How does someone spin straw into gold? And into gold coins, at that! For some reason, I really couldn't wrap my head around that as a kid. So I wanted to do a piece that showed that crazy moment from the story."
Travale loved to read as a child and says that classic Golden Books showcased some of the greatest illustrators to have ever picked up a paintbrush: "There are so many artists now that are inspired by those books."
Some of the works in the show are tongue-in-cheek, like Kristin Tercek's Mister Dog — a take on the Golden Book Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself — which depicts the titular scruffy brown pup with his signature straw hat, red bow tie, and wooden tobacco pipe, though Tercek's version of the pup looks more innocent and less grizzled than the original. Husband-and-wife team Little Friends of Printmaking was inspired by the original, traditional multicolored drawings of Pierre Bear and turned out a blocky, two-tone screenprint of the bear, smoking a pipe, surrounded by classic Americana sporting equipment, including a shotgun. A small strip at the bottom of the image is a nod to the golden spines of the original books.
Price points for the works in the show range from $30 to $1,200, and both Magnetta-Ottati and Kenney will be present at the Friday opening to answer any questions about the works. Kenney will also host a "Yummy" meet and greet on Saturday from 3 to 4 p.m. The mini-event will focus on her Kidrobot line of fruit-inspired designer toys.
"I do plan to bring some sort of small gift to give out to [attendees], probably packs of one-inch buttons that I am making," Kenney says."Every meet and greet is like a fun party, and I never want my guests to leave empty-handed."