Cats or Dogs? The Debate over Four-Legged Friends Heats up at the Zimmerli this Summer

June 16, 2017

 

Cats or Dogs? The Debate over Four-Legged Friends Heats up at the Zimmerli this Summer

 

New Brunswick, NJ – It is estimated that more than 60% of U. S. households have at least one pet – the majority of which are cats and dogs – so it is no surprise that domesticated animals have been popular subjects for American artists. In particular, illustrators of children’s books have created memorable canine and feline characters, depicting the distinct movements, expressions, and personalities that endear them to their human companions. The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University has drawn from its vast holdings in this genre to present Cats vs. Dogs: Illustrations for Children's Literature, opening July 1, featuring more than 40 drawings and collages by Frank Asch, Mary Chalmers, Tony Chen, Roger Duvoisin, Shari Halpern, Lois Lenski, Ward Schumaker, and Art Seiden. The exhibition emphasizes the strength of visual elements in storytelling, especially for children learning how to read. Relating to the situations that characters encounter, youngsters become more engaged in the story and recognize how the fictional lessons apply to their own lives.

 

“Cats and dogs are beloved companions in our everyday lives,” notes Nicole Simpson, the Zimmerli’s Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings. “Stories of their journeys and adventures have entertained and educated children and their families for generations. This exhibition presents a wide range of illustrations – from whimsical sketches to highly detailed, realistic renderings and bold, graphic modern approaches – that demonstrate the creative approaches of these artists and the charms of these animals.” In addition, visitors are invited to vote for their preferred pets in one-of-a-kind ballot boxes in the gallery.

 

Several works on view document the development of beloved characters. A collage by Shari Halpern for Little Robin Redbreast: A Mother Goose Rhyme (1994) portrays a moment in the rivalry between cats and birds: the robin, just out of reach, taunts the cat, as readers anticipate the imminent pursuit. The expressive scene incorporates vibrant shapes of paper, assembled into a lively, modern interpretation of this centuries-old tale. Preparatory pencil sketches by Mary Chalmers for Three to Get Ready (1965; written by Betty Boegehold) capture the signature movements of cats – grooming, strutting, grabbing toys. The story instills early lessons about responsibility, kindness, and courage as three kittens test their boundaries and learn from mistakes, just as children do, when they increasingly navigate the world on their own.

 

While most of the works on view show only key moments from books, visitors have the opportunity to enjoy the entire story of Mouse Chase (1995; written by Vivian Sathre) with illustrations by Ward Schumaker. This story follows a cat that pursues a mouse across land and through water. The wily rodent remains just out of reach, until it finally escapes for good. Schumaker’s flowing lines and condensed color palette, along with the author’s short, declarative texts, match the quick pace of the story, engaging readers in the adventure. 

 

Two stories introduce readers to a broad range of dog breeds. Art Seiden understands the individuality of canines in Puppies (1962), celebrating the physical traits and unique personalities of such breeds as poodles, dachshunds, beagles, and collies. Nine of his detailed gouache (opaque watercolor) drawings define the varied textures of whiskers and tufts of fur, as well as their distinct reactions during such activities as playing tug or taking a bath. Roger Duvoisin’s gouache illustration for the cover of Mr. & Mrs. Button’s Wonderful Watchdogs (1978; written by Janice Brustlein) portray the lively spirit of this crew of pets. When the Buttons decide they need more protection than provided by their dachshund and two cats, they successively adopt dogs increasing in size and perceived intimidation: boxer, German shepherd, Doberman Pinscher, and Irish wolfhound. But they soon learn that outside appearance is not indicative of personality.

 

The exhibition spotlights several other original drawings and collages by Roger Duvoisin, for whom the Zimmerli’s gallery dedicated to children’s books is named. An acclaimed illustrator of more than 140 books, he lived and worked in New Jersey for nearly five decades. Duvoisin often collaborated with his wife Louise Fatio to create memorable characters whose antics and epiphanies provide life lessons that resonate from generation to generation. His drawings for a 1936 edition of Mother Goose (edited by William Rose Benét) accompany fairy tales and nursery rhymes that have been passed down for centuries, with contemporary characters in situations to which readers can relate. The anxiety of the ubiquitous Three Little Kittens who lost their mittens is apparent; Bow-Wow helps children develop reading and memorization skills by imitating the amusing sounds of farm animals; and Pussy Sits by the Fire captures a scene of a relaxed cat and dog engaged in polite conversation. Duvoisin’s preparatory designs for Flash of Washington Square (1954; written by Margaret Pratt) tell the story of a young cocker spaniel who loves living in New York City, featuring selected scenes that express his energy and determination. Illustrations for Marc and Pixie and the Walls in Mrs. Jones’s Garden (1975; written by Fatio and Duvoisin) depict an unexpected friendship that evolves from a rivalry between a chipmunk and cat after they find common ground.

 

Cats vs. Dogs: Illustrations for Children's Literature was organized by Nicole Simpson, Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings. The exhibition, on view July 1, 2017, through June 24, 2018, is open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays (please note: the museum is closed to the public during the month of August while staff members install new exhibitions). To schedule a class or group tour Tuesday through Sunday, contact the Education Department (education@zimmerli.rutgers.edu) at least two weeks in advance.

 

ZIMMERLI ART MUSEUM|RUTGERS

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum houses more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary art. The permanent collection features particularly rich holdings in 19th-century French art; Russian art from icons to the avant-garde; Soviet nonconformist art from the Dodge Collection; and American art with notable holdings of prints. In addition, small groups of antiquities, old master paintings, as well as art inspired by Japan and original illustrations for children’s books, provide representative examples of the museum’s research and teaching message at Rutgers. One of the largest and most distinguished university-based art museums in the nation, the Zimmerli is located on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Established in 1766, Rutgers is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and a premier public research university.

 

VISITOR INFORMATION

Admission is free to the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers. The museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street (at George Street) on the College Avenue Campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Zimmerli is a short walk from the NJ Transit train station in New Brunswick, midway between New York City and Philadelphia.

 

The Zimmerli Art Museum is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and select first Tuesdays of the month, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays, as well as the month of August.

 

PaparazZi Café is open Monday through Thursday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a variety of breakfast, lunch, and snack items. The café is closed weekends and major holidays, as well as the month of and August.

 

For more information, visit the museum’s website www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu or call 848.932.7237.

 

SUPPORT

The Zimmerli’s operations, exhibitions, and programs are funded in part by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and income from the Avenir Foundation Endowment and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment, among others. Additional support comes from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts and the Estate of Victoria J. Mastrobuono; and donors, members, and friends of the museum.

 

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