Museum celebrates Boston's favorite ducks with new exhibit
Posted November 25
BOSTON — America's most famous mallard family is waddling into Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.
"Make Way for Ducklings" opens Friday, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the children's book of the same name. The exhibition looks back on the career of Robert McCloskey, who wrote the classic in 1941 and won a Caldecott Medal for it the following year.
The heartwarming story and elegant illustrations in "Make Way for Ducklings" have dazzled readers for decades, but especially so in Boston, where bronze statues of the duck family are a fixture in the downtown Public Garden.
In the story, the mallards wander through Boston's busy streets, ducking frenetic car and bike traffic and taking time to enjoy peanuts tossed by people on the city's Swan Boats.
"I hope the love for that publication will draw people in," said Meghan Melvin, the exhibition's curator. "He was such an observant artist, very detailed and perceptive. That will come through in these sketches."
McCloskey, who died in 2003 at age 88, was a celebrated illustrator and author who produced eight picture books including "Blueberries for Sal," ''Lentil" and "Centerburg Tales."
The exhibition displays illustrations from the special archives at Emporia State University in Kansas that have largely been kept private until recently.
To say the Mallard family is beloved in Boston and the surrounding area is an understatement. In fact, "Ducklings" fans might argue there is no better place for a McCloskey retrospective than the Museum of Fine Arts, situated less than 2 miles from the spot where the bronze birds call home.
Sculptor Nancy Schon's statues of Mrs. Mallard leading her eight progenies through the Public Garden have drawn tourists from afar since their installation in 1987. "Make Way for Ducklings" also was named the official children's book of Massachusetts in 2003.
"We read the book before we came here today," said Yuen Kwan, a Boston resident attending a preview of the exhibition with her 4-year-old son, Matthew Bronk. "I'd say we go see the statues in the Public Garden a couple times a year."
Included in the exhibition is a miniature version of Schon's sculptures, with a couple of notable differences: the addition of police officer Michael, who stops traffic so the ducks can cross the street safely, and a scene painted in watercolor, a contrast to the book's signature sepia drawings.
McCloskey had envisioned the book in color, Melvin said. But because of the high cost of color printing during World War II, the editor opted for sepia.
"That will be a big surprise for people," Melvin said. "They feel very strongly about the sepia illustrations because that is what they know."
The exhibit, which was originally organized by the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, runs through June 18.