The Mississippi Museum of Art opens "Curious George" and the Art of Margret & H. A. Rey

artwork: H. A. Rey - "Sketch for back of Au Clair de La Lune and Other French Nursery Songs" - 1940 - Watercolor on paper. - H. A. & Margret Rey Papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives at The University of Southern Mississippi.  -  On view at the Mississippi Museum of Art until July 22nd.

Jackson, Mississippi.-  The Mississippi Museum of Art is proud to present “Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey “, on view from March 3rd through July 22nd. It is the twelfth presentation in The Annie Laurie Swaim Hearin Memorial Exhibition Series. Established in 1989 to honor the memory of Annie Laurie Swaim Hearin, one of the Museum’s most dedicated patrons and volunteers, the Hearin series showcases exhibitions of world-class art, attracting visitors to Jackson from across Mississippi, the Southeast, and beyond. “Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey” has been organized by Claudia Nahson, Curator at The Jewish Museum , New York. Curious George, the impish monkey protagonist of many adventures, may never have seen the light of day were it not for the determination and courage of his creators:  illustrator H. A. Rey (1898 – 1977) and his wife, author and artist Margret Rey (1906  – 1996).

They 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 including one about a mischievous monkey, then named Fifi.  Not only did they save their animal characters, but the Reys themselves were saved by their illustrations when authorities found them among their belongings. This may explain why saving the day after a narrow escape became the premise of most of their Curious George stories. After their fateful escape from Paris and a four-month journey across France, Spain, Portugal, and Brazil, the couple settled in New York in the fall of 1940. In all, the Reys authored and illustrated more than thirty books, most of them for children, with seven of them starring Curious George. Over seventy years after the arrival of Curious George in America, the monkey’s antics have been translated into more than a dozen languages, including Hebrew and Yiddish, to the delight of readers, young and old, around the world.

artwork: H. A. Rey, final illustration for “This is George. He lived in Africa,” published in "The Original Curious George" (1998), France, 1939–40, watercolor, charcoal, & color pencil on paper. H. A. & Margret Rey Papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi.

The exhibition  at the Museum  offers visitors a rare opportunity to view nearly eighty original drawings and vibrant watercolors of Curious George and other characters. Many of these works have never been on display before. Preparatory dummy books, vintage photographs, and documentation related to the Reys’ escape from Nazi Europe, such as H. A. Rey’s 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. In addition, the exhibition features an interactive timeline, accessed via a touch-screen computer, about the Reys’ life in France from the late 1930s through their fateful escape in the summer of 1940.  Visitors will be able to view additional pages of H. A. Rey’s journal, detailing the couple’s journey to safety; images of illustrations by H. A. Rey; photographs taken by Margret Rey in France; documentary photography related to early World War II in France; and historic video. Audio interviews with the couple are also included.“We are very excited about hosting this extraordinary exhibition. H. A. Rey (né Hans Augusto Reyersbach) had no formal art training, but in the early 1920s he designed and lithographed circus posters in Hamburg. Margret Rey (née Margarete Waldstein) studied art and photography at the Bauhaus School and then worked in advertising firms and photographic studios in Germany and England in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The two first met in Hamburg before Hans departed for Rio de Janeiro in 1925 to work for a relative. They were married in 1935, after Margret joined him there, following Hitler’s ascent to power in Germany. An extended honeymoon took them to Paris, where the Reys began working on children’s books. Filled with gentle humor and illustrated with H. A. Rey’s vivid watercolors, their stories were usually formulated by Hans and later developed by Margret into a full plot. Following the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, and France’s  declaration of war against Germany, the Reys sought refuge first in the southern region of Gers and later in Normandy, fleeing Paris for the third and last time on June 12, 1940.

Despite the difficulties, the Reys were prolific in France, publishing seven books from 1937 through 1939 (three in both French and English) and completing the manuscripts and drawings for at least four others later published in America. On October 14, 1940, the Reys finally reached New York. Within a month, four of the manuscripts they had brought with them were accepted for publication by the publisher Houghton Mifflin. Exhibition highlights include original drawings and bright watercolors for Raffy and the 9 Monkeys (in which Curious George makes his debut as Fifi), featuring a lonely giraffe named Raffy and the nine monkeys that become his playmates; Whiteblack the Penguin Sees the World with Whiteblack setting out on a globe-trotting pursuit of new adventures; Fifi: The Adventures of a Monkey (later published as Curious George); and subsequent American escapades of the famous monkey hero. Whether falsely alarming the fire department while experimenting with a telephone, going up in the air with a bouquet of balloons or a kite, or falling into the water after a failed attempt to fish with a mop, the little monkey is always in trouble, both propelled and undone by his insatiable curiosity and appetite for adventure. While the idea of the monkey’s narrow escape from danger was introduced in the first Curious George story created by the Reys in France, the concept of “saving the day” is only used in their later books written in the safety of America. By the time the man with the yellow hat comes to his rescue, George’s capers have already been mitigated with some poetic  justice, which may be understood as emblematic of the important role the character had played both in saving the Reys’ lives when fleeing Nazi Europe and later helping them rebuild their careers in the United States. In turn, the little monkey born in France acts out the fantasies of many immigrants: he lands an acting job in Hollywood soon upon arrival, advances research by traveling in a spaceship, and makes it to the front page of newspapers, all the while becoming thoroughly Americanized.

artwork: H. A. Rey - "How Do you Get There?", 1941 - Collection of the University of Southern Mississippi © 2012 by HMH. On view at the Mississippi Museum of Art in "Curious George saves the Day" from March 3rd until July 22nd.

In 2007, construction was completed on the renovated Mississippi Museum of Art, creating a beautiful new home for the Museum and its permanent collection of art. The renovation project, which took just under a year to complete, marked a historical day for Mississippi and its artistic legacy. The move from the Arts Center of Mississippi to the new facility was small geographically, amounting to no more than a city block, yet it pushed the Museum light years ahead in terms of capabilities, technology, and the overall philosophy of what an art museum means to the community. The facility’s brilliant architectural makeover reflects the Museum’s mission to become a symbolic “museum without walls” – an inviting public space that offers relevant and meaningful cultural experiences to both the Jackson community and the state of Mississippi.  The completed building represents Phase 1 of the decade-long plan to transform the Museum’s surroundings into a cohesive cultural district in Downtown Jackson. The architecture of the Museum is a tangible manifestation of a philosophical mission. For many years, the mission of MMA was “collecting, preserving and exhibiting art,” a typical museum mission statement. However, when the Board of Trustees of the Museum began to plan the building process for the new facility, the mission was changed to “engage Mississippians in the visual arts,” a statement that focuses on community interaction and personal experience. The architects, Glavé and Holmes in Richmond, Virginia, and Dale & Associates locally, applied this new philosophical mission to the architecture of the building, creating a sleek, open design for the once-rectangular building. The Museum lobby and entryway is filled with light through the use of a large amount of glass and by raising the roof of the entryway. Museum visitors plainly see not only the entrance to the Museum but other visitors inside the building, breaking down barriers and creating a transparent front door that makes everyone feel welcome. The vibrant Palette Café by Viking encourages visitors to sit and relax, and the patio and terrace create welcoming and comfortable spaces that are, literally, the front porch of the downtown cultural district.

Recently, in Fall 2011, the Museum completed Phase 2 of their visionary plan, opening The Art Garden at the Mississippi Museum of Art, a 1.2 acre public green space complete with outdoor art installations, the sprawling BankPlus Green, a performance stage, and various spaces for visitors to engage with the arts in a variety of forms.  Symbolically, The Art Garden breaks down barriers between the neighboring arts organizations and serves as the nexus of a cultural district that empowers creativity, expression, and synergy in the arts community. The Art Garden has, from the beginning, been a public-private partnership with the city of Jackson. Numerous private and individual donors, as well as state and federal agencies, contributed to and helped to realize the grand vision. Architect Madge Bemiss oversaw construction, and carried the torch passed by the late Ed Blake (1947-2010), whose imagination and forward thinking years before laid foundations for The Art Garden. The Mississippi Museum of Art has amassed a meaningful survey of American art, including paintings by Albert Bierstadt , Arthur B. Davies, Robert Henri , George Inness , Georgia O’Keeffe , Reginald Marsh , Thomas Sully and James McNeill Whistler .  Among the photographs, prints and unique works on paper are images by Romare Bearden , Alexander Calder, Mary Cassatt , William Eggleston , Walker Evans, Jacob Lawrence, John Marin , Cindy Sherman , and Andy Warhol . Works by John DeAndrea, Malvina Hoffman, Paul Manship, Elizabeth Catlett Mora and Reuben Nakian highlight a growing collection of sculpture. American Indian baskets and more than 170 southeast outsider art objects–including works by artists Annie Dennis, Howard Finster, Earl Simmons, Jimmie Lee Sudduth, Sarah Mary Taylor and Mose Tolliver–are important parts of the collection. Visit the museum’s website at …