By LENNIE BENNETT
Times Art Critic
Dr. Seuss was more than one of the greatest children's literature authors of all time. He was also Theodor Geisel, painter, sculptor and political cartoonist, writing and drawing with the same whimsy and charm, but mostly for adults.
You can see the range of his talent at Syd Entel Galleries, where a series of limited edition prints and sculptures are on view and for sale.
Geisel (1904-1991) never had formal art training, calling himself a doodler. During graduate studies at Oxford University, he decided the academic life was not for him, though he adopted the nom de plume of Dr. Seuss — it was his middle name and his mother's maiden name — because he said his father always wanted him to be a doctor. He became a successful commercial writer and illustrator as well as an editorial cartoonist. During World War II, he worked in the Army Air Force's animation department, collaborating on two short films that won Academy Awards.
His early efforts at children's books in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s met with modest success. The Cat in the Hat, published in 1957, catapulted him to stardom. With its slightly subversive theme and utterly original illustrations, the book shook up the children's publishing industry and redefined the genre. An estimated 500-million copies of his dozens of books have been sold.
But long before Cat, he had invented a quirky menagerie of creatures. During his New York years, in the 1930s, he sculpted a number of them in plaster, painted their faces and added real horns, beaks and antlers that he had collected over the years. (His father worked at a zoo in Springfield, Mass., when Geisel was a child.) He called the sculptures his "Unorthodox Taxidermy" and they have been reproduced for sale in hand-painted cast resin. And during his years as an acclaimed author, he would paint his "Secret Art" at night, images that often have a kinship with his book characters but are not part of a narrative and some that are a real (and adult!) departure, such as Myopic Woman. He also translated many images into bronze sculptures, also reproduced for sale here.
Geisel won many awards but never a Caldecott or Newbery, the two most prestigious in children's literature. He is in many ways like Norman Rockwell, denied serious critical acclaim but beloved by a huge public following.
The collection at Syd Entel Galleries has examples that reflect his broad interests. Its organization suggests a reading of them as political and social statements. Many are intended as such (The Butter Battle Book), some are open to interpretation (The Lorax) and others are a stretch (The Cat in the Hat). Bear in mind that all are reproductions of the originals. Most are in large editions (meaning a lot of them have been printed) but they are well done technically.
As a nod to the upcoming presidential election, the exhibition's title is "Dr. Seuss for President." There's a pep rally at 9 a.m. Friday with a marching band at the gallery, which fronts the main — and quaint — thoroughfare in Safety Harbor. Sadly, Dr. Seuss will not be on hand to accept the nomination. He probably would have declined, anyway.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8293.