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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Reporting: Society of Illustrators October 18th Original Art Exhibit

Herein lies my official report on The Original Art Exhibit as hosted by the Society of Illustrators once a year.  As the exhibit’s chair, Diane Goode, puts it, ” ‘The Original Art’ is an annual exhibition that celebrates the fine art of children’s book illustration in the best possible way.  This exhibit offers illustrators an independent opportunity to submit and show the original book art – the opportunity to be juried by and exhibited with colleagues.”  This year the jury consisted of Nick Bruel, Demi, David McLimans, Rubin Pfeffer, Neal Porter, Marjorie Priceman, and Paul O. Zelinsky.  The opening of this show (now available for all of you who happen to visit or live in New York) was a week ago and the exhibit will be up between October 17th and November 21st.

First off, let me set the scene for you. It is New York City. It is October. And it is hot as blazes. My husband and I were joking the other week when we said we wouldn’t remove our air conditioner from the window yet. Now it looks as if that was a very wise (albeit lazy) move on our part.

In any case, as I booked it to the Society of Illustrators gallery for the opening of the current show I had several items on my possession:

1. A sketch by artist Chris Sheban from his book Catching the Moon. Not a real sketch, actually. More a PDF printed image of the sketch which he would sent to the winner of the raffle we’d be having at my Kidlit Drink Night later that evening. In the picture the old woman is laughing so hard that tea is coming out of her nose. You will not find this image in the final book, which is a pity. It’s a pretty cool idea.

2. Some picture books carried on the optimistic off-chance that maybe I could get an author to sign them (irony: The one book I should really have brought is still in my office drawer at work, consarn it).

3. A large red bag containing many copies of Scott Magoon’s The Luck of the Loch Ness Monster. Many heavy copies.

I made for the subway in Rockefeller Center and managed to dive into a subway car at the last possible moment, just narrowly bashing my fellow passengers out of the way with my large, heavy red bag. I glance up and who should I see but illustrator Jeremy Tankard, sole creator of Grumpy Bird in all its infinite glory. Jeremy is approximately 20-feet tall so he is easy to find in a crowd.  I cling to Jeremy and I’m led to the location in question.

It didn’t take me long to get in and check my bag.  Everyone was given tiny nametags in the palest of pale blue.  Everyone except the illustrators of Random House.  That company had been kind enough to give their own people great big honking stars with their names practically lit up in lights.  Once I got in, the place was still filling.  Amazingly, I was able to actually check out some of the art on display before too many people came in.  The funny thing about the show was the fact that authors weren’t even mentioned in conjunction with the pieces on display.  The tags alongside the art would mention the publisher, the author, and other essential notes, but not a single authorial blip on the radar to be seen.

Gorgeous doesn’t quite cover it.  Think of the most beautiful picture book to come out this year.  Have you thought of it?  Good, because it was there, I’m sure of it.  163 artists and pieces were on display and each one truly beautiful.  Seriously, you name it and it was there.  Everything from Let It Shine and Alligator Boy to Knuffle Bunny, Too and (surprisingly) The Boy With Two Belly Buttons.  This year the medal winners were as follows:  Gold went to Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug by Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash.  Silver to The Frog Who Wanted to See the Sea by Guy Billout and Jabberwocky as adapted by Christopher Myers.  The Founder’s Award for the most promising new talent went to Taeeum Yoo who made that lovely little book The Little Red Fish.  Lifetime Achievement (alive) was for Ashley Bryan and Lifetime Achievement (posthumous) was for Leo Lionni.

Now, the Society of Illustrators space has many advantages that aid it in presenting a stunning array of art.  The walls are white.  The room, spacious.  There are two floors.  The flip side of this, though, is that there are many DISadvantages when it comes to hosting an event of this size and scope.  Because it was hot as blazes (hard to remember with the weather finally cooling down now) the air conditioning just couldn’t cope with the sheer amount of bodies pressing into the upper floor.  Thinking that I was clever, I high-tailed it to the lower level . . . . where there wasn’t any air conditioning at all.  Oog.  Other problems involved the acoustics.  I don’t know why, but if the presentation of the awards happened anywhere, it should have been at the doorway to the space.  It was the kind of place where 150 silent souls would watch the presentation and 2-3 people near the door could be talking in such a way that their voices carried all the way to the back of the room.  Next year the Society of Illustrators would do well to purchase some heavy duty industrial strength librarian shushers.  Even in the midst of Mr. Bryan’s eclectic, entertaining, audience-participation-obligatory speech, you could still hear the 2-3 people at the end of the room jibber jabbering.

All that aside, the speeches were great.  Nobody brings fire to Eloise Greenfield’s, “Ain’t Got It No More” better than Ashley Bryan.  Megan Montague Cash gave a truly charming speech herself, and Leo Lionni’s daughter was on hand to accept his lifetime achievement award.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.