The Good Doctor’s Surprise

November 6, 2012
3 mins read

Each night, children around the world are tucked into bed with stories written by a doctor (his friends called him “Ted”). Dr. Seuss was a genius with cartoons and words, for which he collected myriad accolades and awards. But years after his death, the world was stunned to discover that the good doctor had left behind secret treasures: Paintings and sculptures almost no one had seen, created with talents most never knew he had.

During his 70-plus years of toiling at his writing and the publishing of his efforts, often locked in his studio until the wee hours of the morning, the man — the legend, the national treasure — was secretly creating surrealistic fantasies for no other reason but his own pleasure. And at the end of his successful and storied life, he entrusted Audrey Geisel, his beloved wife, to one day reveal these unique artistic visions, as had been his intention all along. Six years later, she honored his request and we discovered another side of the genius behind “The Cat in the Hat.”

And now, an exhibit of those paintings and sculptures by Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel (1904-1991) is being mounted at Avondale Artworks. It’s the North American premiere of the painting “The Cat That Changed the World.”

“We’re really pleased to be working with Avondale Artworks … what a great thing to do, to reintroduce Dr. Seuss to Jacksonville with an original artwork,” Seuss collection curator Bill Dreyer said.

Another notable Seuss work is displayed for the first time in Florida, “The Abduction of the Sabine Women,” a 5-foot-by-5-foot painting depicting the legendary birth of the Roman Empire. Other artists to reproduce this (in)famous moment in history include Pablo Picasso, Peter Paul Rubens and Giambologna. Dreyer will begin each showing with a short talk about the life and times of the beloved children’s book author, illustrator, artist and Academy Award-winning documentarian.

The curator will be on hand to speak with guests throughout the show.

When the first pieces were unveiled in 1997 with the launch of “The Art of Dr. Seuss” project, Dreyer was immediately compelled to join the endeavor. “I felt strongly that I had to come and work with this collection. To me, it’s one of those discoveries that happen rarely in the art world when you find that there is a whole treasure trove that the artist has rarely or never exhibited in his lifetime,” he said. Dreyer is among the few to have personally beheld the complete, original collection at Seuss’ widow’s estate.

Although “The Art of Dr. Seuss” project was launched more than a decade ago, people are continually surprised to learn it even exists. “I almost feel at times like I haven’t done my job very well, because we’ve been doing it for 15 years and, to this day, 97 percent of the people who come into the gallery and find this artwork say, ‘I had no idea about the secret art of Dr. Seuss,’ ” Dreyer said, adding with Seussian buoyancy, “It’s this wonderful story we get to share time and time again.”

Works from the collection are now exhibited in fine art galleries alongside those of such familiar artists as Warhol and Rembrandt. And in 2011, Seuss’ artwork was awarded the Gold Medal in the National Fine Art Category, besting thousands of entries from around the world.

Dr. Seuss might even have been the first sculptor to work with one particularly unexpected medium. In the 1930s, he created “The Collection of Unorthodox Taxidermy,” utilizing parts of animals that died at the zoo where Seuss’ father was superintendent. According to Dreyer, each vivid piece represents how Seuss imagined the animal “would want to be reincarnated.” A number of these unusual works are also exhibited at Avondale Artworks. “Whether you’re a child or an adult, you really get a sense of the playful zealousness that Ted Geisel brings to his work,” Dreyer said.

Though some may struggle to understand why a talented artist and author would keep his other works a secret, it may be that these pieces were too personal for Geisel to reveal during his lifetime. “His major legacy will always be the impact he had on children’s literature,” the curator admitted, adding, “If his work in children’s literature was the heart of the man, the artwork was his soul. This was his private domain, and he chose to keep it his own.”

As the artist himself wrote, “You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.”

Claire Goforth

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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