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Everyone’s favorite little monkey will be swinging into the Mississippi Museum of Art on March 3 for a nearly four-month exhibit of the original drawings that inspired one of the world’s most beloved literary characters — and that saved the lives of its creators.
Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H.A. Rey will be on display at the Museum March 3-July 22. The exhibit has been organized by Claudia Nahson, Curator at The Jewish Museum, New York, and is supported through a bequest from the Estate of Lore Ross.
“We are very excited about hosting this extraordinary exhibition,” said Betsy Bradley, director of the Mississippi Museum of Art. “While on the surface the antics of a monkey entertain us, in reality they serve to teach us important life lessons about perseverance, bravery and optimism.”
Nearly 80 illustrations will tell the story of Curious George, the impish monkey protagonist of many adventures who might never have been introduced to the world were it not for the determination and courage of his creators. Illustrator H.A. Rey and his wife, author and artist Margret Rey, were both born in Hamburg, Germany, to Jewish families and lived together in Paris from 1936 to 1940.
Hours before the Nazis marched into the city in June 1940, the Reys fled on bicycles carrying drawings for their children’s stories. One such story was about a mischievous monkey, then named Fifi. The Reys took shelter in an old chateau in the French countryside, where they continued to develop the tale of Fifi.
Their German accents raised suspicions among their neighbors, who feared the couple might be spies. Officials arrived to search the house, but all they found were illustrations. Both the Reys and their characters were spared, which may explain why saving the day after a narrow escape became the premise of most of their Curious George stories.
The Reys landed in New York in October 1940, and within a month four of the manuscripts were accepted for publication by Houghton Mifflin.
“The Reys’ personal story is one of triumph in the face of danger,” Bradley said. “Through George, they reveal their own heroics that, in the end, uplift and inspire their readers.”
In all, the Reys authored and illustrated more than 30 books, most of them for children, with seven of them starring Curious George. The exhibition at the Museum offers visitors a rare opportunity to view nearly 80 original drawings and vibrant watercolors of Curious George and other characters. Many of these works have never before been on display.
Preparatory dummy books, vintage photographs and documentation related to the Reys’ escape from Nazi Europe, such as H.A. Reys’ journals detailing the couple’s perilous journey to freedom, are also included. One of the exhibition galleries will be transformed into a reading room for visitors of all ages inspired by the beloved monkey’s escapades in “Curious George Flies a Kite.”
It is fitting that the venue for this exhibition is in Mississippi; most of the art and documentation in the exhibition has been lent by the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi. After the exhibition concludes at the Museum, the art and documentation returns to USM.
“The de Grummond Collection is recognized worldwide as the premier Children’s Literature Collection,” said Ellen Ruffin, Curator of the de Grummond Collection. “We are pleased that the Curious George exhibition comes home to Mississippi and makes its final stop at the Mississippi Museum of Art.”
Following its showing at The Jewish Museum, New York, the exhibition traveled to the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, Calif.; the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Va.; and the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.
Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H.A. Rey is made possible locally through the generous support of the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation. Additional support is provided by Trustmark Bank, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi, The Clarion-Ledger Media Group, and the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau. Support is also provided in part by funding from the Mississippi Arts Commission, a state agency, and in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.