The first museum dedicated to the life and work of revered children’s book author and illustrator Theodore Geisel – better known as Dr. Seuss -- opens to the public Saturday in Springfield, Massachusetts.
When Ted Geisel’s stepdaughter Lark Grey Dimond-Cates heard about the plans to open a Dr. Seuss museum in the city where Geisel was born and raised, she made the painful decision to part with the drawing table that once belonged to her stepfather. Over the years, she had moved the table with her from house-to-house.
"And it is here now, its upstairs," she said in an interview a few days before the scheudled opening of the museum.
Dimond-Cates and her sister Leagrey Dimond donated a family treasure-trove of photographs, original artwork, letters, and furniture that will all be on public display in The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum. The drawing table is part of a recreation of Geisel’s living room studio in his La Jolla, California home.
The museum is located in a two-story stone building on the quadrangle of the Springfield Museums. It is opening 15 years after the dedication of the Dr. Seuss Memorial Sculpture Garden that was designed by Dimond-Cates and is located on the lawn of the quad.
" We've been a good team Springfield and I and we've worked very hard to bring Ted home along with all his characters," said Dimond-Cates
While the second floor of the museum displays personal items not seen by the public before, the rooms on the first floor are filled with painted murals and oversized sculptures of the colorful familiar characters from the Seuss books, including the Cat in The Hat, Horton, and Yertle the Turtle, to name but a few.
Seuss museum project director John Simpson supervised a team of more than two dozen artists and craftspeople who brought the pages of the children’s books to the walls and floors of the museum.
" This is like a portrait of Dr Seuss and at the same time coping his paintings as the old master artist," explained Simpson. " I am trying to give him the respect I have for him and edit myself from the process because I don't want to get in the way of people experiencing him and his books."
Exhibits depict Geisel’s childhood home and local landmarks such as the Forest Park Zoo that may have inspired some of his work.
The entire museum is interactive and family-friendly, according to Springfield Museums President Kay Simpson (who is John’s wife).
"We are trying to bring to life Dr. Seuss' philosophy that learning should be fun, that reading should be fun," said Simpson during a preview tour of the exhibits. " It is all done with a light touch and it is participatory."
Children can pose for pictures with the sculptures of their favorite characters, draw pictures with their fingers on a large flat screen TV, play rhyming games and invent stories.
"This is a book-rich environment. We'll have books all around so families can sit down and read together and we are encouraging them to do that," said Simpson.
Sally Fuller, the director of a community-based early childhood literacy initiative in Springfield, praised the museum.
"What we really hope will happen is that when kids come to this museum they will learn about rhyming and they will learn about how important it is and this foundational skills will be imbedded and they won't even know it because they'll be playing," said Fuller.
The Seuss museum project cost $7.5 million. A Friday night fundraiser is planned in a downtown hotel ballroom where they’ll serve green eggs and ham.
The grand opening of the museum Saturday morning will be preceded at 9 a.m. by the “Dr. Seuss Parade and Cavalcade of Conveyances” that will begin on Mulberry Street and will be led by a big balloon Cat in The Hat.
The new museum is projected to draw 100,000 people, increasing annual attendance at the Springfield Museums to 500,000.