Dr. Seuss characters brought to life in BRAHM’s Atwell Gallery

Attwell Gallery in the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum now adorns a red accent wall telling the story of Jim and Kathy Griffel’s collection of Dr. Seuss’ pieces. Seuss’ famous Sneetches are sketched out for viewers to see the artistic process on March 23.
Attwell Gallery in the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum now adorns a red accent wall telling the story of Jim and Kathy Griffel’s collection of Dr. Seuss’ pieces. Seuss’ famous Sneetches are sketched out for viewers to see the artistic process on March 23.
Meg Frantz

Not many know Dr. Seuss was a pseudonym for Theodore Seuss Geisel, and the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum brought his work to life in the Atwell Gallery. “The Reading Room: From Seuss to Geisel and Back Again” opened on Feb. 24 and is open until June 2. The exhibit is sponsored by First Citizens Bank.

The 18 pieces were donated to BRAHM by Kathy and Jim Griffel, who recently bought land in Blowing Rock and wanted to introduce themselves to the community. Half of the pieces are from Geisel’s recognizable children’s books, from “Cat in the Hat” to “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” while the other half are from his lesser-known adult collection. All pieces have a mark of authenticity with the edition number.

“Dr. Seuss, for the bulk of his career, was spent making things for adults,” said Sam Reep, a volunteer docent at BRAHM. “It’s family-friendly, but there are things that an adult will see that a child will not. As you go through it, keep your eyes open.”

His adult collection features characters inspired by the socialites surrounding Geisel. One piece, titled “Martini Bird,” paints a picture of a mother bird holding her child back while dressed in lingerie and a sheer gown. She holds a martini glass between two fingers, prioritizing the socialite life over motherhood.

According to the BRAHM website, “Fantastic creatures are made real through ‘Unorthodox Taxidermy,’ three-dimensional renderings of unbelievable but no less charming beasts.” The piece features 3D renderings of Geisel’s wacky creatures. The 3D pieces were displayed in various bookstores in New York City in 1937.  

The exhibit is decorated with eccentric mid-century modern furniture in various shades of green, orange and yellow, highlighted by the red accent wall and soft, warm light. It features a seating area with a bookshelf full of classic Dr. Seuss books for children to explore the world of cats with hats and hot air balloons. There is also a flipbook with multiple drawings that allow visitors to create their own Dr. Seuss character.

“The Reading Room: From Seuss to Geisel and Back Again” not only displays art but also books selected from Dr. Seuss’ collection for children to explore on March 23. The eccentric rug was donated by The Rug Company, residing in Blowing Rock, NC.

Geisel often pulled from the Surrealist movement in his artwork, featured in “Every Girl Should Have a Unicorn,” resulting in kaleidoscopic abstractions on canvas. He furthered his study at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1926, and though he worked within limitations of accurate representation, he played with linework in his landscapes. 

Two of the pieces, “The Sneetches 60th Anniversary” and “Soar to High Heights,” are rough sketches of drawings featured in “The Sneetches and Other Stories” and “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.” The charcoal sketches provide museum-goers with insight into Geisel’s artistic process, with messy color application something to be celebrated rather than chastised. 

“When I was a kid, I had quite a few Dr. Seuss books and my mom would read them to me and it was our special time,” said Michelle Roberts, a visitor at the museum. “‘Go Dog Go’ and ‘Hop on Pop’ were my favorites.” She still watches “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” every year during the holiday season. 

Roberts said that the exhibit inspired her to find her collection of Dr. Seuss books and read them to her nephews. 

The impact of the exhibition reaches outside of BRAHM’s walls. For every visitor that comes to the museum with their child, a free copy of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” is handed out. The books were purchased with a grant from the Kennedy-Herterich Foundation. The foundation supports educational programs and provides grants to non-profit organizations in Blowing Rock, according to highcountrycaregivers.org.

“BRAHM is thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with Kathy and Jim Griffel to share their collections of drawings, paintings, and sculptures by Theodor Seuss Geisel,” said museum director Stephan Dragisic. “Seuss is a part of many of our lives, and this is a way to shine a light on him as an author and illustrator who has touched generations.”

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    Leigh BarnesApr 2, 2024 at 8:37 am

    “Go Dog Go” is written and illustrated by P.D. Eastman.