Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

Exhibit Features Rarely Seen Artwork By Dr. Seuss

San Diego History Center
Theodor Geisel aka Dr. Seuss at his easel.
New Exhibit Features Rarely Seen Artwork By Dr. Seuss
New Exhibit Features Rarely Seen Artwork By Dr. Seuss GUESTSBill Dryer, curator, "Ingenious! The World of Dr. Seuss" Charlotte Cagan, executive director, San Diego History Center

So Bill let's start and everybody knows about Dr. Seuss and his kids books but not everyone knows about his art. What kind of artist was he? He's hard to classify. ________________________________________ He is hard to classify because he almost mimicked all the majors honors throughout history. And during the gecko. And Cubism there were different kinds of styles. What's interesting about the work is that during his lifetime, he never exhibited his paintings which were very private. He did them for his own personal enjoyment. At the end of his life he let his wife Audrey know when I'm gone bring these out and show the world. We see the other depth and dimension of Peter Geisel as an artist. ________________________________________ Why do you think Dr. Seuss wanted to keep the works of art private? ________________________________________ I think there are a couple of reasons. He was aware that commercial artist at the time were not considered fine artists. A contemporary of Norman Rockwell, he knew they would not be recognized or reviewed well. He did not give a like about what anyone thought about his artwork. This was his private domain and loved painting more than anything. The second reason I believe is because some of this is a more adult wink, wink, it's never dirty and crosses the line but shows how brilliant wit and humor he has in another dimension you might not expect. I don't think he wanted to cross lines and impact his children's books persona in any way. ________________________________________ That's right. He was so well known for the children's books that perhaps anything considered naughty would be perhaps a questionable thing to put out. Now we get to enjoy the paintings. I understand the earliest known paintings were done seven years before his first kids books. Tell us about those. ________________________________________ Dr. Seuss started using the pseudonym Dr. Seuss in the late 1920s and started creating paintings at that point in the early 30s and 40s. He doesn't write his first children's book until 1937. At the San Diego History Center, the first art you walk into is a large painting of the founding of Rome called the objection of the Sabine women. You see Dr. Seuss coming down the track quickly and know it's coming down seven years later because you see the Horton character. You see typical characters and animals that become so well known in his children's books years later. Even though he doesn't actually write a book until 1937. ________________________________________ Charlotte, his books are also incorporated into the exhibit? It's not like we won't get to see about the things we know and love about Theodore Geisel's work? ________________________________________ Absolutely. This exhibition is into parts and the two parts together make a whole. The first as Bill was talking about what we called his adult art and I know Bill has referred to these as his ________________________________________ Paintings. And we have a second area that is very family-friendly with interactive activities based on his most popular books. I want to say I think there is a juxtaposition and I think it would be very interesting for people to see as Bill pointed out some characters and themes that show up in his adult art and how they are carried out in his children's books and vice versa. Even those more mature paintings were not seen until after he passed away, they are a lot of the work embedded in his books. What I have learned is how fastidious an artist he was even for children's books. They look like they were dashed off but in fact I learned some of them took several years to complete. We're showing in the family gallery also examples of his art including some of the drawings in the earlier stages and phases of what would eventually become the children's books we know and love so well. What we have done in the family gallery is talk about the core messages behind each of the books because again as much as we adore them and transform the way children like to read Dr. Seuss, he was very substantive and serious and there were key messages behind each of his books. The Lorax is about environmentalism. Green eggs and ham which many people don't know was actually written with 50 words. There are only 50 words in the book and it's a literacy mechanism. It's one of the reasons why I believe in 1984 Theodore Geisel received the Pulitzer Prize for his work on behalf of literacy. We have the entire gallery divided into five darling beaches. Each one has a large blowup of the photo as well as a marvelous pond sculpture which makes a perfect photo opportunity and can be touched. There is a family activity that relates to the core message. For instance the Grinch which is so popular at this time of year, the message there is generosity and giving. We're asking children and their parents to write postcards of well wishes to children in the hospital and we have a big mailbag and it will be delivered to the children in that hospital. ________________________________________ Almost like an interactive exhibit. ________________________________________ It's all interactive. We have cat in the hat and the message is creativity. Allison, when you come to the exhibit with your family you will sit down and make a cat in the hat hat and put it on and where it outside. ________________________________________ Bill I understand there are statues as well as paintings. With a done by Theodore Geisel or based on his paintings? ________________________________________ The bronze sculptures are tribute sculptures based on his book images. There is also sculptures on the wall that is known as his collection of unorthodox taxidermy. That is what Ted called them. This in my opinion is the gem of the collection. It's Dr. Seuss taking creativity to three dimensions. He received real horns, peaks, and antlers in the early 1930s from his father who was the superintendent of Zeus. He took those animal parts and decided he would make what he thought these animals would want to be reincarnated as. ________________________________________ How difficult was it to collect these statues and sculptures and paintings? Were they all in a collection or did you have to collect them from various different places? ________________________________________ Most artwork come from 2 main collections which is the home of Ted Geisel where his wife Audrey still lives, and the University of California San Diego also has the Dr. Seuss archives. This exhibition is only possible because in 1997 Audrey decided to allow an authorized collection of limited additions to be created. All of the originals are in the homes still were archived in UCSD. You can imagine they are priceless and don't travel and many are fragile. The limited edition collection which started in galleries 15 years ago and people come into the galleries to collect the artwork, the collection shows us the breath of his artistry. The originals are not in the exhibition but excellent examples of his work. I have worked with a collection for 15 years and able to generate from many different sources throughout his life. It represents a broad collection of his imagery. ________________________________________ Charlotte was saying there were things he was passionate about and which actually show up in his books. What would you say are the underlying themes to his art? Where did he draw inspiration? ________________________________________ One comment that Charlotte made I will piggyback on. When you look at his secret art or midnight paintings, the common golden thread that runs through everything he does including children's work or advertising work or poetry, is the quality and Ted used to say a look at the world through the wrong end of a telescope. Even though the paintings are more elaborate as you can imagine that illustrations with a couple colors, so it really takes his ideas to a fully developed dimension. The themes range from early historical painting like I mentioned, the founding of Rome. To a series specific to San Diego which is called the La Jolla. When he moves to California in 1948, he starts to make good-natured fun of California socialites. He created 11 paintings of these bird women and I will give you one example. There is a woman in a coffin on the telephone. Ted writes below what she is saying which is I'd love to go to the party but I'm absolutely dead. ________________________________________ So he's kind of like the Jon Stewart of art. He is spoofing and using art in ways to point out the truth but making it funny at the same time. ________________________________________ He has in a aging genius when it comes to be able to poke fun at us and deliver sociopolitical messages couched within an artwork that is not offensive to anyone. Another great example from the exhibit is a work that shows a boy and girl who are probably 10 and 12. They are sitting in the family room and the boy is reading a big book with the title that says facts of life. The boy is saying this stuff is dynamite! ________________________________________ In fact there is also evidence that he did work during the war. Is that right? ________________________________________ He stopped writing children's books for 7 years so he could dedicate himself to the World War II effort. Between 1941 in 1943 he created over 400 editorial cartoons. There is a book out called Dr. Seuss goes to war for anyone who would love to jump into that area of his career. He certainly dedicated his life and career and won several Academy Awards from the documentaries he created during that time frame. ________________________________________ It strikes me people might like to know a few more examples of the characters we are all so familiar with like Doctor Horton that we can see if we show up at the exhibit, earlier versions of those characters. ________________________________________ The signature our work that Charlotte selected to open the exhibition right next to a big beautiful photograph of Ted Geisel painting at the easel is an artwork called after dark in the park. It was created in 1933. That is 4 years before he writes his first children's book. It is a series of different animals and characters playing in the park after dark and how perfect it was for us to open up the expedition after dark in Balboa Park. One example of the imagery and that is you see 2 turtles stacked up in that artwork. Of course it's about 11 years later that the book your bullet-riddled comes out. ________________________________________ Interesting so Dr. Seuss levels will get back one of the books they love. Charlotte, this exhibit kicks off the history Center Balboa Park centennial programming? ________________________________________ Yes and I'd like to add one comment. A follow-up on what you both have been talking about. There is another very unique aspect to this exhibition which is only here in San Diego in our museum and that is to focus on the relationship between Peter Geisel and San Diego and La Jolla. He was a beloved San Diego in. He was highly creative and productive here for a great part of his life. That is one of the most important thematic organizing principles of this exhibition. We actually show you not only photos of him working in his La Jolla studio, but how the panoramic views and living here actually inspired a lot of his artwork. We juxtapose and talk about that. We have all flyer on the wall from Audrey Geisel underneath the panoramic view of Ted and his La Jolla studio and you recognize the ocean and the ocean behind it and said I don't think Ted could have been productive without that view. We have to recognize and honor and be very proud of the influence of San Diego on the work of this incredibly ingenious artist in the world's most celebrated children's book author. To your point about how this is kicking off for launching our 2015 programming, in fact there is a direct or dotted line between the 1915 exposition and the work of Peter Geisel. 1915 the Expo was all about exuberance and creativity and innovation and imagination. It was all about San Diego. All of those qualities certainly apply to theater Geisel as well. We thought it was the perfect way to launch over 2015 programming. We had a mandate to play a pivotal role in the Centennial celebration. And we are carrying it out. ________________________________________ We are looking forward to the Centennial very much. I think there will be a massive outpouring of creativity and such a wonderful way to kick it off for the history Center. I'd like to thank both of you so much for being with us and telling us about this very fantastic an amazing exhibit called "Ingenious! The World of Dr. Seuss" and it runs through 2015 at the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park. I'd like to thank Bill Dryer curator for the art of Dr. Seuss collection thanks for being us. And charlotte Cagan the executive director of the San Diego History Center.

Theodor Geisel, Dr. Seuss, is known and loved around the world for his children's books, but until now few were aware of the true breadth of Geisel's artistic legacy.

To kick off its 2015 celebration of the Balboa Park centennial, the San Diego History Center opened an exhibit celebrating San Diego's renowned local author called "Ingenious! The World of Dr. Seuss."


The exhibit features rare and never before seen artworks by Geisel, some inspired by San Diego locales.

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. All Rights Reserved
"Hotel del Coronado" by Theodor Geisel.

“Many locals know that Dr. Seuss lived here, and while they have read his books many have not yet seen his art,” said Susan Brandt, president of Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. “This exhibition will show the community another fantastical side of Dr. Seuss.”

"Ingenious! The World of Dr. Seuss" runs through the end of 2015.


The history center’s "Celebrate San Diego!" exhibition line-up also includes: "Masterworks of the Exposition Era," featuring renowned artwork displayed at the 1915 Exhibition; "San Diego Invites the World," a multi-media commemoration of the 1915 Exposition; and a new documentary film on the history of Balboa Park, funded in part by the San Diego Tourism Authority and the San Diego Tourism Marketing District.