Walter Wick, Famed Illustrator Of Children's Books, Based In Hartford
By SUSAN DUNNE
February 05, 2012
Photographer Walter Wick found his niche a long time ago: making childrens' fantasies come true.
"I want this to look like a kid built it," Wick said, pointing to his photo "Sky High." "Not literally, but what a kid would imagine."
"Sky-High," a bird's-eye view of an intensely colorful toy metropolis, where some skyscrapers look like robots, is part of an exhibit at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich of photographs from Wick's long career as a children's-book illustrator. "Walter Wick: Games, Gizmos and Toys in the Attic" will be up until Sunday, April 22.
"This is the way I played as a child, with my blocks and toys," Wick, the famed creator of the bestselling "Can You See What I See?" books, and co-creator with Jean Marzollo of the popular "I SPY" series, said of his whimsical creations. "When I ran out of blocks, I used a kitchen stool, deli tubs."
During an exhibit walk-through at The Bruce last week, Wick, 59 — who was born in Hartford, grew up in Granby, graduated from Paier College of Art in Hamden and now lives and works in downtown Hartford — said after becoming a professional photographer, he spent years taking pictures for magazine covers and book series, and creating visual puzzles for Games magazine and other magazines. But when the "I SPY" series came along, he finally settled into what would become his true calling.
"I made these gravity-defying pictures … with floating objects in the pictures, and children wrote to me asking 'How did you do that? Did you throw them up in the air, suspend the toys in gel, suspend them in clear plastic?' One person asked me 'Did you travel to space?' " he said. "I knew that I had found my audience. That was the sense of wonder I'm trying to generate with these images."
The Bruce exhibit captures that sense of wonder, even more effectively than Wicks' books do: The images are large-format and lack that dark seam that mars a photo at the binding of a pair of book pages. As a result, they invite careful, lengthy viewing.
The wall labels next to the works contribute to that sense of fun. Next to "Card Tricks":
"Can you see what I see? Seven horses, fifteen hearts, seven cards with missing parts."
Next to "Alphabet Maze":
"Can you see what I see? A girl with a book, a red letter B, an alphabet path from A to Z!"
Next to "O Frabjous Mirrors!" a salute to Lewis Carroll:
"Basic: Find 8 magical reflections.
"Intermediate: Find 16 magical reflections.
"Advanced: Find all 32 magical reflections.
"Expert: Determine the chronological order of the four mirrors together with the desktop scene."
The exhibit encompasses several different phases of Wick's career: early simple land and water scapes, Games magazine puzzle constructions, I SPY set-ups, "Can You See What I See?" fantastical creations and other optical illusions, including his floating marbles, a real snowflake and "impossible objects." A small alcove in the exhibit has child-sized tables with some of Wick's books, so visitors can see how the paintings on the walls looked in print.
He is especially proud of "Levers, Ramps, and Pulleys" from "I SPY School Days," a Rube Goldberg creation. "Even kid not able to read could figure out what would happen if the Rube Goldberg chain was put into motion," he said. And he has fun showing that, too. In a video accompanying the photo, he knocks down the whole thing with one push at the beginning of the chain reaction.
Another video, accompanying the photo "Balancing Act," which shows 117 objects balancing on a Lego brick, shows cute little wind-up toys toddling toward the construction to knock it down. One finally succeeds. (This photo will be familiar to many Hartford-area residents, as it was created for KidSpace at the Connecticut Science Center.)
The most elaborate constructions are from two of his installments of the "Can You See What I See?" books: "Once Upon A Time" and "Treasure Ship." Wick, with his assistants in his Hartford studio, created three-dimensional sets depicting Puss In Boots, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and sunken ship-themed dioramas and photographed them. Several of these sets, in addition to the photos made from them, are on display at the Bruce.
"I can use motifs from Renaissance art that you don't normally find in a toy-based world," he said. Another inspiration is sacred artworks. "The hidden objects, like a religious painting, have meaning. I want to get kids to think about the symbolism. But don't tell them that."
Despite the serious inspirations, Wick still puts the emphasis on fun: "Puss in Boots" is accompanied by the rhyme: "Can you see what I see? ...the Marquis's carriage, a white-plumed hat, an ogre's frown, and one clever cat!"
WALTER WICK: GAMES, GIZMOS AND TOYS IN THE ATTIC will be on exhibit until Sunday, April 22, at Bruce Museum, 1 Museum Drive in Greenwich. Museum hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is $7, $6 seniors and students, free for children younger than 5 and members. Details: http://www.brucemuseum.org.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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