“Elephant & Piggie in WE ARE ART" at the Muscatine Art Center -- through February 5.

Exhibit: Thursday, November 3, through Sunday, February 5

Free Family Day: Saturday, November 5, 1:30 – 3:30 p.m.

Two of the most beloved figures in children's literature, as well as the author and artist who originated them, will be celebrated through February 5 in the Muscatine Art Center's Elephant & Piggie in WE ARE ART, an exhibit organized by the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, with all artwork on loan from the collection of Mo and Cher Willems.

Created by Mo Willems, Elephant & Piggie is a book series for early readers that debuted in 2007 with two books, is done in a comic book style, and features two friends: an elephant named Gerald, and a pig named Piggie. The books are written in conversational style, with Piggie's words appearing in pink letter bubbles and Gerald's appearing in grey letter bubbles, and the books often address issues of friendship. Starting with the series' debut, two books were occasionally released on the same day, and with There Is a Bird on Your Head! and Are You Ready to Play Outside? wing the Geisel Medals in 2008 and 2009, two additional installments have been listed on Time magazine's Top 10 Children's Books of the Year: Today I Will Fly! (ranked number two in 2007) and Elephants Cannot Dance! (ranked number five in 2009). In August of 2015, Willems announced that the 25th entry in the series, The Thank You Book, would be the last, although Willems subsequently developed a series titled Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! that features pictures books by other authors, with Elephant and Piggie themselves making brief cameo appearances to bookend the new stories.

With Willems a master of rendering emotional expression, a mere raise of Piggie’s eyebrow or Gerald’s toothy smile provide visual clues to the characters’ feelings. Willems also employs simple vocabulary, with 40 to 50 unique words per book, and clever text treatments, including various sizes, boldface, capital letters, and italics to maximum effect. The exhibition Elephant & Piggie in WE ARE ART features Willems’ hand-drawn illustrations from all 25 Elephant & Piggie books, as well as his digitally-colored final renderings. Early sketches, dummy books, and size charts, meanwhile, reveal Willems’ methodical working process.

“The adventures of Elephant and Piggie are so much fun while also demonstrating the value of friendship,” explains Muscatine Art Center Director Melanie Alexander. “People of all ages can relate to the quirky duo and will find that their conversations are laugh-aloud funny. Willems’ stories are certainly funny, but they also impart gentle lessons on manners, empathy, and, most importantly, the value of friendship. The pessimistic elephant and positive pig are a beloved odd-couple who, having joined the pantheon of children’s literary characters, will entertain and inspire children for generations."

Elephant & Piggie in WE ARE ART will be on display through February 5, with regular gallery hours Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. While admission is free, donations are appreciated, and more information is available by calling (563)263-8282 and visiting MuscatineArtCenter.org.

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