Good Night Room
Karen Petersen creates a
window on children's classics
by KEVIN FOLEY
It didnt take long for Karen Petersen
G98, the curator of the Shelburne Museums surprise hit exhibit,
From Goodnight Moon to Art Dog, to get confirmation that
the museums tribute to the famous family of childrens book
illustrators and authors was on the mark.
It was the first day of the show and we werent even quite
finished building yet, and this little 18-month-old shaver comes in
and sees it and just stops dead, she says. Then he starts
shouting: Its the room! Its the room! And we
all breathed and went, Were going to be OK.
The it in question was a lovingly detailed oversized diorama
of Clement Hurds painting of the great green room
you know, the spot with the bunny in striped pajamas, painting of a
cow flying over the moon and hovering red balloon from Margaret
Wise Browns 1947 perennial best-seller Goodnight Moon.
We needed a hidden camera right there, says Petersen. The
reactions were amazing, really deep emotions. Children gaped;
more than one adult visitor began to cry.
Petersen, a cheerful ex-teacher with a big smile and an even bigger
voice, found the enthusiasm easy to come by. She needed it, given her
challenge: translating the lives and work of illustrators and part-time
Vermont residents Clement, Edith and Thacher Hurd into a fully contoured
museum show that offered something to children and adults. Petersen
and her curatorial colleagues had to balance the biographical stories
about the husband-and-wife writing and illustrating team (and their
son, Thacher, author of six books), with art and art commentary, and
kid displays and games. The task was made simpler by the Hurds
fine art influences, which ranged from Vermeer to Ferdinand Leger, and
non-condescending approach to childrens art. It was easy
to have all these multiple layers simultaneously in the exhibit, Petersen
says. It just all fit.
Delving into the art history was fun, but for Petersen the kids
stuff offered the biggest pleasures the carrot-baited fishing
pole from Runaway Bunny, a giant paint-brush hot rod from Thacher
Hurds Art Dog, and, especially, a recreation of a waterfront
diner kitchen from his Mystery at the Docks. Its this spot,
tucked into a nook of the barn and stocked with toy cooking utensils,
that represents Petersens favorite union of fun, literature, and
the museum space.
Kids would go in, shut the door for an hour, and Id come
by and knock to get something and theyd say, Go away. Were
busy, she says.
With the show closed, Petersen is back planning education programs,
but the museum is beginning planning for another childrens literature
show, and Peterson plans to curate another place where kids can step
into the pages of a book and lock themselves in.
From Goodnight Moon to Art Dog
is traveling to other museums throughout 2004 and 2005. It will be at
the Orlando Museum of Art from May to September and the Stamford Museum
and Nature Center from October through December.