I know not everyone enjoyed the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh or the poetry of A.A. Milne, but I did. I can recite great tracts of verse from When we were Very Young or Now we are Six. Don’t get me started on James, James, Morrison, Morrison… you will regret it because I know the WHOLE thing! But I could also tell you the basic story line for most of Christopher Robin’s adventures and I must have spent many an hour of bedtime reading poring over the maps of the Five Hundred Acre Wood and fixing in my mind just where everything is. I’ve always had a thing about maps and it could well stem from that early exposure to sketched out paths, copses, streams, bridges and the homes of key characters.
I also really loved the drawings as a child without having any notion of how they were made, why they felt so relevant and how true to the characters they were. The exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum on Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic will be wonderful fun for any Pooh enthusiast like me or for a younger who might just be getting to grips with the world of young Christopher Robin and his friends.
Much of the exhibition is nicely laid out at child height and there are some great interactive elements such as a Pooh-Sticks bridge with a constant flow of (digital) twigs and bits and pieces flowing under it. On press preview day there were several children obligingly ‘throwing’ sticks and clutching red balloons (a very useful object for Pooh when honey hunting) while adults peered with fascination at the more historical exhibits higher up on the wall.
I really enjoyed seeing E.H. Shephard‘s initial doodles and drawings. You can really see the way he used pencil sketches to feel his understanding of the character before creating the finished illustration in pen and ink. It was also great to see how imaginative the publisher and book designers had been in using elements of the illustrations in a non-obvious way, taking details and placing them elsewhere on the page.
Of course there were exhibition spaces filled with the stuffed toys like the ones owned by Christopher Robin who triggered thoughts of Tigger and Piglet along with the quantity of merchandise soft toys, games and films which followed. But for me, I think the most exciting part of the show was to see the earliest and most experimental of illustration ideas and how the author and illustrator almost melded into one combined being, both sharing and expressing the idea in complementary ways. A true meeting of minds. An enchanting show. 9 December 2017 – 8 April 2018