Art lovers of all ages, if you find yourself with an hour or so to spare, meander down to the Mississippi Museum of Art for the exhibit "Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey" that opened March 3. If you can wrench yourself away from the lovely spring weather out in the museum gardens, you can enjoy stepping into the pages of a children's literature classic.
As an adult, I felt childlike walking past a giant map and through a decorative Parisian arch into George's world. The exhibit begins with photos and documents tracing the chronological history of Margret and H.A. Rey's extended honeymoon in Paris, where they began their life together as husband, wife and curious little monkey.
The exhibit includes recently discovered vintage photographs of the author-illustrator team, as well as a wide array of sketches, paintings, and manuscript pages from the extensive collection of Curious George materials. It also features other important artwork from children's literature and documents at the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi's McCain Library.
Helpful text labels describe each illustration in detail, putting it in context within its source book as well as within the chronology of George's life.
For adults and older children, the story of Margret and H.A. Rey's honeymoon in Paris-turned-escape from German occupied France is captivating and well-told. The chronological exhibit has occasional colorful murals in the style of the Reys and includes an innovative, hands-on computerized timeline of their lives.
The exhibit tells the thrilling story of this couple packing their manuscripts and making their own bicycles out of used spare parts in order to ride 75 miles to flee the city just hours before the arrival of the Nazis.
From an adult perspective, I would have liked a little more information to help put Curious George into context. I felt curious about the evolution of the literature and art of Margret and H.A. Rey, and although this was possible to gather with some back-and-forth between the rooms in the gallery, I would have liked a more explicit look into how their work changed over time and place.
I also wondered about the role of Curious George within the children's literature of their time more broadly.
Through a younger child's eyes, the illustrations themselves are engaging, and mock-up pages effectively demystify the concept of what a book really is. There are a few hands-on areas, such as a gorgeous aquarium nook with a soft carpet and cushions to sink into, along with a big stack of Curious George books.
However, as I chased my almost-3-year-old, do-it-himself guy around the exhibit, I saw his frustration at needing to be picked up to enjoy much of the exhibit. Although there was plenty of its physical accessibility for taller people, I felt like my son and the other littles in the gallery would have benefitted from some reproductions of the art located lower on the walls to run up to and interact with on their own terms, or perhaps some platforms or step stools to equalize the height differences amongst potential museum guests.
And although there was more for little people to touch than at most art museums, I found myself wishing for a little more--perhaps a puppet theater for kids to create their own stories, or a bookmaking station to put words and pictures together, further illuminating for children what it is to make a book.
If you have kids in tow, you may wish to bring towels and a change of clothes so that they can monkey around in the spring sunshine in the museum fountains after enjoying Curious George.
"Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H.A. Rey" is on display at the Mississippi Museum of Art (380 S. Lamar St., 601-960-1515) through July 22. Museum hours are: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday. Admission $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $6 for students. Visit msmuseumart.org.