WOCKETS and Sneetches!! Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzzes, Ooblecks and all the things that sprout On Beyond Zebra! More than 300 drawings, books and posters of the world's most famous children's doctor are at the Baltimore Museum of Art for its "Dr. Seuss From Then to Now" exhibit.
The exhibit of drawings by legendary kid's book author Theodore Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, has been carefully installed to make it accessible to all ages. Parents still have to read the text and heft the smaller kids for a better look, but this is not the kind of show where children have to be hushed and shuttled through an endless series of rooms. Young and old will recognize the charmingly goofy pictures and stories that always seem to end with some sort of easy-to-swallow moral.
As you approach the south facade of the museum, a 22-foot Cat in the Hat peers over the balcony with that familiar "Now-we're-gonna-have-fun" look. Once inside, you can spot guards and museum staff easily: they too sport the Cat's teetering red-and-white striped hats. The gallery has been decorated in neo-illogical Seussesque: brightly colored archways, tunnel-like passages, murals and benches that resemble a bit of Solla Sollew.
The exhibit's three sections are chronological: The first follows Geisel's early illustration and advertising work in the '20s and '30s, including calendar drawings of his peculiar animals and a notebook from his ill-fated college days at Lincoln College of Oxford University in London. (Instead of keeping his mind on English Literature, the notebook is crammed full of whippets, Hollische Nachgeburts, flying cows and assorted other early Seuss-olutions.) Standard Oil's Flit insecticide ad campaign, one of the first done entirely in cartoons, is included here. Monstrous beaked mosquitos zoom around innocent fishermen, soldiers and trapeze artists -- all of whom are yelling "Quick, Henry, the Flit!"
Ads for Essolube, political cartoons and illustrations for newspapers and Life magazine round out the first part of the exhibit, which also includes a sampling of "Boners" -- collections of "schoolboy howlers that you can take to parties" (as in "A polygon is a dead parrot," and "A cow is like a bull, but a bull hurts much more") Geisel began illustrating in 1931. And yes, this was the time that Geisel began to get the idea that he ought to try writing children's books.
The second section of the show concentrates on the drawings from many of his 45 books, highlighting such familiar characters as Sam (I Am), the Grinch, the Lorax, Horton, the Elephant and The Cat in the Hat. The original presentation copy of And To Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937), Seuss's first book, is also on display. Seuss began doodling for the book when he was aboard a ship and needed to get his mind off some stormy seas. After he finished it, he sent it to 28 publishers, all of whom rejected it because "it was too different." Luckily an old school friend at Vanguard Press agreed to have it published. (How sorry those other publishers must be now that Seuss's 20th book, Green Eggs and Ham, has become the third best-selling book in the English language.)
The last exhibit segment follows Seuss' most recent You're Only Old Once (1986) through illustration and editorial production. This section never gets too awfully technical; kids seem just as interested in color proofs as they do in sketches and doodles.
Toward the end of the exhibit, there's a TV corner that runs continuous Seuss cartoons. Children and sheepish parents are perpetually piled up here -- as they are in the impromptu gift shop full of all that's Dr. Seuss: books, posters, memorabilia, the reissued grown-up book The Seven Lady Godivas (which bombed when it was first published in 1938) and You're Only Old Once (Seuss suggests giving this to your kids when they turn 70).
DR. SEUSS FROM THEN TO NOW,
organized by the San Diego Museum of Art, is open 10 to 4 Tuesday-Friday, 5 to 9 Thursday-Friday and 11 to 6 weekends until January 17 at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Art Museum Drive at North Charles and 31st. No evening hours December 24 and 31; closed Christmas and New Year's Day. Seuss cartoons are shown 1 to 5 Saturdays and Sundays in the Hess Room, and "family days" (performances, cartoons and storytelling) are scheduled December 27 and January 3. Museum admission is $2, free for members and kids under 21. Call 301/396-7101.