Late at night, with the world asleep, Theodor Seuss Geisel to his studio would creep. The author and illustrator stashed his unfinished prose and unrolled artwork that nobody knows.
The world came to love him as Dr. Seuss; he famously created characters like the Whos. An expert says that his midnight jam helped him dream up stories like “Green Eggs and Ham.”
“At nighttime, it was just his own unbridled creativity he was able to put out there on canvas, on a piece of paper, on board,” said Jeff Schuffman, spokesman for the Art of Dr. Seuss Collection for more than a decade.
“Which, I think, definitely benefited what he was doing during his day job. I think one inspired the other.”
More than 40 reproductions spanning 50 years of Geisel’s unknown artistry will be unveiled to the Canadian public for the first time on Monday at a gallery in Vancouver. The Pendulum Gallery will showcase the limited edition illustrations, paintings and sculptures authorized by the Dr. Seuss Estate in California until July 30.
The exhibition will offer a rare look at works that Geisel asked his wife not release publicly until he was dead, Schuffman said. Seuss squirreled away the art he made for pleasure, to cure writer’s block, and for family and close friends to maintain some privacy, he said. More than 250 million copies of the author’s 44 books had been published by the time he died in 1991.
Geisel dubbed his secret collection, containing about 200 works, the “Midnight Paintings.”
In a preface to a book about the collection called “The Cat Behind the Hat,” Geisel’s wife Audrey writes: “I’m gratified to carry out Ted’s wishes and have these works revealed to the world.”
Schuffman said there is the public side of Dr. Seuss that many children grew up with, but visitors to the exhibit will discover his private mind.
Geisel, born in 1904 in Massachusetts, was a self-taught artist whose talents ranged from watercolour to oil to sculpture, Schuffman said. He studied at Oxford University to be an English professor, but quit when he realized he was doodling more than taking notes.
He began his career as an editorial cartoonist in the 1920s, served in the army during the Second World War and visited more than 30 countries in Europe and South America before he was 30 years old.
“I meet a lot of people at shows and exhibitions who knew that Seuss certainly was an author who revolutionized children’s literacy in the late 1950s, but never realized that he actually illustrated those books as well,” Schuffman said.
“You will come away being reintroduced to someone who you thought you knew.”
Among the gallery highlights will be a portfolio of nine drawings recreated last year to honour the 25th anniversary of Geisel’s final book, “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” He made the hand-coloured drawings before the book went to final ink and paint.
A quirkier display will be five surreal animal heads mounted on wood plaques that were made in the 1930s, called “Unorthodox Taxidermy.” Fabricated from paint, papier mache and clay, they were inspired by authentic beaks, horns and antlers of dead animals that were mailed to Geisel by his father, a zoo superintendent. The sculptures have names like “The Carbonic Walrus” and the “Goo-Goo-Eyed Tasmanian Wolghast.”
Schuffman described the work being displayed in Vancouver as having a “Seussian slant,” from his writing, to his rhythm and rhyme, to his drawings and characters.
“If you saw them out of context, you may not notice that they are the art of Dr. Seuss,” he said. “But when you see them in context with his full body of work, it just clicks and makes sense.”