Katonah Museum of Art
© 1997 Callaway & Kirk Company, LLC, Miss Spider's New Car
You can say one thing about the new exhibition opening in the Katonah Museum of Art's Learning Center - it's got legs. Eight of them, to be exact. And they belong to an endearing, green-eyed arachnid named "Miss Spider," who has enchanted millions of young children in recent years.
Miss Spider is the brainchild of David Kirk, whose masterful illustrations and stories featuring the little creature currently appear in three best-selling books: Miss Spider's Tea Party, Miss Spider's Wedding, and Miss Spider's New Car. Approximately ten of Kirk's original illustrations for the books are on view from September 20, 1998 to February 28, 1999 at the Learning Center, a unique, exciting interactive space where children and their families can explore, interpret, and create art. The Center is geared primarily for children ages 5 to 12, and is open during regular Museum hours.
According to Kirk, a good story should always have a moral point. But his books aren't only about tolerance and generosity; they are also about bugs, which have always fascinated him. When Kirk was a young boy in Ohio, he amassed a large menagerie of moths and praying mantises, to the dismay of the adults in his household. After college, he worked at a film-processing company in Manhattan and made toys on the side to sell in his small shop in SoHo. By 1982, he and his wife decided to abandon the Big Apple for upstate New York, where he started a toy factory. Kirk not only designed the toys, he created the illustrations for their boxes. It was the packaging that caught the eye of a major book publisher, out shopping for toys for his 2-year old daughter. Within a few months, Kirk was commissioned to write and illustrate a children's book about a spider (different publisher), and Miss Spider's Tea Party was born.
Both the Tea Party, a vividly illustrated tale of a lonely spider who wins over a dismissive clique through courtesy and tea cakes, and Kirk's second book, Miss Spider's Wedding, have sold over one million books. The cheerful little series has spun a mighty web: witness First Lady Hillary Clinton's reading of Miss Spider's Tea Parry to youngsters in Baltimore to launch a 1997 literacy drive; or Madonna's reading the book on MTV in 1995 to a large prime-time audience. And a movie, home video, and CD-ROM are in the offing. Kirk's illustrations - created with Painterly precision and a luminous palette - translate well in various media.
Accolades for Kirk's original homespun tales, which have climbed onto the Top Ten children's book list, have come from various quarters. USA Today commented: "The visuals alone are a feast for both young and old eyes. Illustrated in smashingly bright neon colors - Kool-Aid pink, lime green, Day-Glo yellow - the pictures are almost electric with energy." The Wall Street Journal observed: "A friendly female spider is showing the children's book-publishing world how to spin a hit book." The popularity of the books did not go unnoticed by The New York Times either. "Both books," the newspaper observed, "have an offbeat attitude, chipper but with a sinister edge, and vivid drawings with pumped-up colors and toothsome 1940's shapes - the Andrew Sisters meet The Yellow Submarine. "
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