For those who grew up or had children over the last 40 years, a childhood might seem incomplete without the bright and colorful pages of books by Eric Carle, like “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”
To capture the art, man and meaning behind the books, which have been archived in the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Books Art, a documentary titled “Eric Carle: Picture Writer, The Art of the Picture Book” will be featured in the annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival by documentarian Kate Geis.
“It’s a sort of short process documentary about how he makes his work and we wanted to talk about some books he’s created since the first picture writer video about him that had been made in the early ’90s,” Geis said.
“It’s a story of creating the museum and how he was inspired as a child from his kindergarten teacher to continue to make art.”
One of the documentary’s messages is to inspire people to create art at any age, Geis said.
“The spirit of the film starts with that idea and part of Eric’s nature is to encourage other people to create art themselves, no matter what age they are,” Geis said.
“At 83 years old, he is still making books and working, creating personal art.”
Geis originally became involved with Carle when she was hired to take promotional footage for Carle’s museum.
She said the documentary relates to Wild & Scenic’s theme “A Climate of Change” because the documentary inspires people to care about the environment and nature.
“The themes of the festival are about being a creative person and to find in creative ways, ways to inspire other people to save the planet,” Geis said.
“Eric does that by focusing his work on caring about small creatures and focusing on environmental themes and having children pay attention to bugs and have that appreciation and have a young child learn to look at those creatures as beautiful, since he makes such beautiful works of art.”
Geis is no stranger to the Wild & Scenic festival, as she won best of entries in 2004 for her whitewater kayaking film, “Riversense.”
She was unable to attend the festival that year, which adds to the excitement of this year’s participation.
“I wanted to come back and see it for myself,” she said.
Geis said she was grateful for Carle’s generosity and openness in sharing his creative process, something the documentary unveils.
“He’s a very generous person in terms of how he shares how he makes his work,” Geis said. “He really wants other people to be creative and he has the ‘I can do it, so you can do it’ philosophy and he means that; and it’s part of his sense that we all have an artistic spirit in us and he wants to encourage children to have that.”
Carle’s openness made filming an easy and fluid process, Geis said, adding that being able to witness the process was an exciting experience.
“Filmmakers need the access and need the person they’re filming to be generous in that way and share the thinking behind that work, so being in the studio with him is a very peaceful kind of meditative place,” Geis said.
“One of his favorite places is just to sit there and create work and when you get to be over his shoulder and watch him create, you’re watching a master. So it’s exciting to see how he can whip up something.”
According to Carle’s website, his interest in art began after his first-grade teacher, Miss Frickey, told his mother that she should nurture his artistic talent. Carle eventually studied design at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Germany from age 16 to 20.
“My background is in graphic design and I started to make books for children later in life,” Carle said in an email. “But I still think of my illustrations and the covers of my books as little posters and much of what I do in terms of design of my books is the work of a designer.”
Carle used what he learned about design to work as an art director for an advertising agency, and in the mid-1960s was asked by Bill Martin Jr. to illustrate “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” and came up with the idea to try writing books as well.
“I began to make rough books of my ideas and stored them in a small cardboard box,” Carle said on his website.
“When I illustrated a historical cookbook, the editor heard about my box of ideas and asked to see them.”
Carle later showed editor Ann Beneduce a story about a worm that ate holes through pages, and suggested Carle use a caterpillar.
“‘Butterfly!’ I exclaimed,” Carle’s website said.
“That is how “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” was born. Almost without trying, I had become an author and illustrator of books for children.”
Carle said the books alleviate some of the sorrowful memories from growing up in Germany during World War II.
“The colorful illustrations of my books are a kind of antidote to the grays and browns of my childhood,” Carle said.
“Also, I am especially interested in the child’s transition from home to school, because this was a difficult period in my own life. It has been my hope that my books will help to make this transition easier for children.”
The books connect the reader to their inner child, Carle said.
“My books and stories are connected to the child in me, and this is where I always begin when I am creating a book,” Carle said. “I try to entertain the child inside. I hope my books will be entertaining and will pass on a little learning, too.”
Carle’s interest in nature began when he was a child after his father took him for nature walks.
“He’d lift up a rock and show me the small creatures who lived underneath it,” Carle said.
“Though he wasn’t alive when I started publishing books for children, I have always thought that with my books I honor my father by writing about small living things.”
“Eric Carle: Picture Writer, The Art of the Picture Book” is one of 165 films that the festival will feature.
The 30-minute documentary can be viewed during the festival at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the Nevada Theatre and 9 a.m. Sunday at the Veterans Hall.
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4230.
“I try to entertain the child inside. I hope my books will be entertaining and will pass on a little learning, too.”
— Eric Carle, author