Sunday, November 14, 2010

H.A. Rey and Margret Rey, creators of Curious George

One of the things that struck me about the exhibit was how exquisite the watercolors are. Even the drawings and watercolors of small animals, often displayed along with a the four- color mock ups for later printing, are lovely. I wanted to take them out and play with them! Another thing that fascinated me was how the Rays made art part of their lives. The exhibit contains the cards they they made to send to each other and watercolors of their "new life" in NY. One of the more delightful watercolors is a 1950's NY street scene with H.A dragging his disobedient dog along and Margret, dressed to the nine's in a very stylish outfit. All of tiny figures were painted with the most amazing detail and skill and the pieces have a lovely whimsy and charm.

H. A. Rey, cover of dummy for La Rue: D√©coupages √† colorer (unpublished), Paris, c. 1938, pen and ink, color pencil, and crayon on paper. H. A. & Margret Rey Papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi.

Final illustration for “He crawled into bed and fell asleep at once” Published in The Original Curious George (1998). France, 1939–40 Watercolor, charcoal, and color pencil on paper
H. A. & Margret Rey Papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi

After having arrived at the house of the man with the yellow hat, George felt very tired “after a good meal and a good pipe.” Here the little monkey crawls into bed in a room that may bear some similarities to the Reys’ quarters at the Terrass Hotel in Paris.

HOW DO YOU GET THERE?

By early February 1940, during the first winter of World War II, as the Reys were trying to figure out a way to reach the safety of America, they embarked on a new project that may have seemed like the perfect antidote: a lift-the-flap book titled How Do You Get There? Featuring bright watercolors, the book’s simple premise—each destination can be easily reached if the appropriate means of transportation is used—stands in stark contrast to the difficulties the Reys experienced as they were approaching foreign embassies, banks, and exchange offices in an effort to flee France.

The illustrations were finished by April 1940, with the couple’s British and French publishers promptly agreeing on the publication terms. Despite these successful negotiations and H. A. Rey’s intense efforts to complete the drawings at such a stressful time, How Do You Get There? would not be published in Europe. The Reys likely carried the drawings for the book when they fled, and had it published soon after their arrival in America.

H. A. Rey’s Journal for 1938
Print and pencil on paper (so tiny you can hold it in the palm of your hand.
H. A. & Margret Rey Papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi

In the opening for October 15–16, H. A. Rey noted one of his many visits to the zoo in Bois de Boulogne. The inscriptions “Klappbuch” (lift-the-flap book), “Garage,” and “Schnecke” (snail) indicate that he was working on illustrations for Anybody at Home? (1939). Also mentioned is a “sick visit” (“Kranken Besuch”) to a certain “Enoch.” The name, often cited in the journals, may allude to Kurt Enoch (1894–1982), a prominent publisher in Europe and later at Penguin Books in New York. Also a Hamburg Jew living in Paris at the time, Enoch published H. A. Rey’s first book in 1923—a collection of lithographs inspired by the writings of Christian Morgenstern (1871–1914), Germany’s great poet of the grotesque.

The exhibit is full of their intelligence, wit and charm. The story of Curious George who started out as Fifi is amazing but not as amazing as his creators who dealt with the lemons of anti-Semitism by making lemonade. 
All Images courtesy of the Contemporary Jewish Museum

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