The lovely illustrator, Claudia Rueda, recently shared a video of a short, moving interview with Eric Carle about his collaboration with Bill Martin, Jr. In turn, I want to share it with you at the end of this post. It made me think about the time I got to meet him. There is something so magical about Eric Carle; his joy and tenderness and generosity shine gently outward, infusing his art and warming his interactions with the many, many people who love that art.
Some years ago, Mr. Carle allowed a group of New England children’s booksellers to tour his studio. We filed up the stairs, excited and a little nervous, into a large open room with a high ceiling, lots of light, and a restful emptiness in the center. My memory is that the walls were lined with cabinetry about waist-high, appealingly clean and bright, with artist’s materials and works (both finished and in progress) here and there about the room. (Please note: the three photos here are screenshots borrowed from Eric Carle’s website, and were not taken during our visit.)
Mr. Carle put us at ease instantly, showing us all the nooks and crannies and sharing tidbits about some of the pieces. We were enthralled by the slim drawers he pulled out, filled with colorful handpainted collage papers, the sculptural and "experimental" art in glass and metal and other materials I hadn’t associated with his work. I admired the light pouring in through the high Amherst windows and the bookcases filled with large, slightly worn art books that have clearly been read and loved and used well over the years. At one point, he mentioned an artist’s name that was unfamiliar to me, and he darted over to the bookcase and pulled down a volume, eager to show me, to pass along a piece of his own joy to a new set of eyes. It was a revealing moment, that gesture.
Next to the studio was a spacious room that served as a meeting area for visitors, furnished with comfortable, handsome sofas and chairs and a coffee table, and the walls were festooned with framed art by Eric Carle, including one three-dimensional piece created out of brightly colored, interwoven ribbons of metal — the singlemost joyful piece of art I’ve ever seen.
The greatest gift of our tour was watching the artist in action. Toward the end of our time in the studio, Mr. Carle invited us to gather around his large work table while he stood, creating a small collage piece, cutting the papers into varied shapes with small sharp scissors, holding the pieces one at a time with tweezers, placing them quickly and surely onto the background to create a form. These fluid motions became a beautiful bird, a red bird, I think; I remember its lively bright black eye. Working, he radiated so much joy (I keep using this word because it’s the most apt one), and I was overcome by a surprising, embarrassing, sweep of emotion. What I mean is, I cried. I was so moved that tears leaked out of my eyes and wouldn’t stop. I actually had to back out of the studio as unobtrusively as possible and go outside, where I sobbed on the street, overwhelmed.
This kind of emotional response to an artistic experience is all well and good when it happens within the walls of one’s own home, but in public, you could be seen as kind of loony. I especially worried that Mrs. Carle, a lovely, intelligent woman who had registered my reaction before I managed to hurry downstairs, would think I was some kind of unstable fan and have me barred from the Eric Carle Museum for life. However, she left the studio to run some errands while I was waiting downstairs for my bookseller friends to emerge, and when she saw me, she patted my shoulder, said something perfect and gracious and brief about the power of art (but without any of the pretension that phrase might conjure) and went along her way. That brisk kindness was worthy of Eleanor Roosevelt herself, and I am still grateful to Mrs. Carle for it.
I think seeing anyone at the peak of his or her craft, fully engaged, at ease, doing beautifully what he or she loves and seems meant to do, is one of the great human discoveries in life. We are surrounded by this kind of joy, and when we see it, we are so, so lucky.
Here is the interview. Enjoy.
I refuse to believe Eric Carle has illustrated his last children’s book, but if that turns out to be the case, what riches he has given us!