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Sheldon Museum celebrates the art of children’s books

MIDDLEBURY — “Tell me a story.”
Four little words repeatedly passed from child to adult since humans learned how to speak.
Those four words will get quite a workout through Oct. 15 at the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, which is showcasing work from some of the state’s finest authors and illustrators of children’s books.
The exhibit is called “Draw Me a Story – Tell Me a Tale.”It includes a variety of original paintings, illustrations, photos, prints, pastels and linocuts that have found their way into some very popular children’s books — which are also on display and available for perusing at the Middlebury museum.
In all, 18 authors and illustrators — including several from Addison County — loaned their talents for the “Draw Me a Story — Tell Me a Tale.” Among them are Phoebe Stone, Peter Lourie, Woody Jackson, Warren Kimble, Thatcher Hurd, and Jennifer and John Churchman.
There’s a decidedly contemporary flavor to this ode to storytelling at the Sheldon, a venue most commonly associated with antique objects and folks who have gone on to their great reward. Yet all of the contributors to “Tell Me a Story” are still with us, and their sampled work is certainly not ancient — and that’s intentional, according to Sheldon Museum Executive Director Bill Brooks.
It’s about attracting a new generation of people to the Sheldon.
“We try to diversify our exhibits to attract different audiences,” Brooks said. “One of the goals of this exhibit is to attract younger families and their children. The parents and grandparents have read to their children, so we’re hopeful that the parents and grandparents will come, and that the younger kids will come. And they have.”
Brooks asked his museum colleagues and other community members for recommendations on potential author-artists for the storybook show. He quickly amassed 18 referrals for an exhibit that could have included the work of many additional talented people, had their been enough museum space.   WORK BY LOCAL artists Warren Kimball and Woody Jackson, above, are part of the Sheldon Museum’s new exhibit “Draw Me a Story – Tell Me a Tale.” Below right, Sheldon Museum Associate Director Mary Manley, right, and summer intern Olivia Tubio helped curate the museum’s new exhibit of storybook art. They are shown here with work by Addison County artist Ashley Wolff. The exhibit runs through Oct. 15.
Independent photos/Trent Campbell 
Each author-artist was asked to submit two or three framed examples of his or her best work, along with some draft drawings to give viewers insight into their creative process.
The resulting collection delivers on the eye candy.
Three outstanding Phoebe Stone pastels occupy a prominent space on the museum wall. Each records, in vibrant oranges, purples, pinks and blues, a young girl’s fantastical escapades with some mischievous bears and a gentile tiger. After relishing the full-sized works of art, viewers can see them in miniature in a copy of the book in which they are featured: “When the Wind Bears go Dancing.”
Stone, of Whiting, has donated one of her original pastels to a raffle that will benefit the Sheldon. That original, also from the “When the Wind Bears go Dancing” book, is on display in the museum’s shop.
Bears are but one of many members of the animal kingdom celebrated in the exhibit.
Precocious piggies prowl the canvas in Thatcher Hurd’s watercolor depictions of farm scenes. His artwork can be seen in the books “Tomato Soup and “Blackberry Ramble.”
Meanwhile, a legion of beret-wearing mice can be seen struggling with human-sized gardening chores in Sarah Dillard’s amusing pencil sketches. Her work can be seen in the very successful “Mouse Scout” books.
Some of the storybook subjects are caught in gravity defying scenes.
Tracey Campbell Pearson created original poster art for he 2002 Vermont State Summer Reading Program. Her poster shows a variety of children and objects — including cars, buses and a spaceship — soaring above a rural community library. The message: Reading energizes the imagination, which can whisk you away to wherever you want.
Jim Arnosky’s grasshopper drawing looks ready to jump off the wall, it is so realistic. It is one of many bugs that live in his book called “Creep and Flutter.”
Addison County resident Peter Lourie has provided some photos of a 1995 canoe trip he took along the Hudson River. One of those photos — showing his small rustic canoe dwarfed by an imposing, modern skyscraper on the shoreline — is featured in his book, “Hudson River, an Adventure from Mountains to the Sea.”
While a strict “don’t touch” policy governs most museum exhibits, Sheldon officials want “Draw Me a Story” to be a hands-on experience for visitors. Mary Manley, associate director of the museum, has set out some beanbag chairs in one of the exhibit rooms to encourage a parent to sit a spell and read one of the storybooks, child-on-lap.
“The idea is, as our visitors come, they not only look at the image, they also read the book,” Brooks said. Some of the represented books are currently on sale at the museum, while others can by purchased at the nearby Vermont Book Shop.
Another room features a clipboard with pencils and paper for children and adults to create their own artwork.
Olivia Tubio, the Sheldon’s Middlebury College intern, devised a neat scavenger hunt that challenges young visitors to spot and record a series of visual details from the exhibit. Kids are asked to bring their scavenger hunt results to the museum office and receive (for free!) one of three storybook titles generously donated by Janet Hayward Burnham, one of the featured author-illustrators.
Manley recalled the reaction from one of the young book recipients.
“She was clutching the book and said, ‘I’m going to take this to bed with me tonight,’” Manley said.
So for the price of admission, adults get to marvel at the artwork and feel a sense of nostalgia, while children get some bonus story time and a beautiful book that will encourage literacy.
Museum officials have recorded some wonderful mental images of the interactions between children, parents and storybooks. Manley got the following reaction from a little girl whom she encouraged to sketch her own drawing:
“She said ‘You know I will. Next to my blanket, drawing is my favorite thing.’”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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