Anna Oakes photo
After a young fan at a June 1 book signing at Appalachian State University shyly handed children’s book author and illustrator Eric Carle a handmade card reading “I love you Eric Carle” with one dollar and five cents enclosed, Carle gives the money back to the child, thanking her for the gift but asking that she use the money to buy ice cream instead.
Aline meandered from one end of Appalachian State University’s new College of Education building, through an open, echoing lobby lit by the late afternoon sunlight, and down a narrow hallway, as visitors murmured excitedly.
Acclaimed children’s book author and illustrator Eric Carle, most famous for his 1969 work “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” was greeting fans in conjunction with the installation of thirty prints, signed lithographs and murals of Carle’s iconic illustrations on the walls of the new academic building, which opened in 2011.
Born in Syracuse, N.Y., on June 25, 1929, Carle moved to Germany with his parents when he was six years old. He graduated from the prestigious art school Akademie der bildenden Künste and returned to New York in 1952, where he landed a job as a graphic designer for The New York Times and later became art director for an advertising company. Carle’s career in children’s books began when author Bill Martin Jr. asked Carle to illustrate a story called “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?,” which was later followed by Carle’s first original book, “1, 2, 3 to the Zoo.” Since publishing his second book, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” Carle has illustrated more than 70 books, including many bestsellers, and more than 103 million copies of his books have been sold around the world.
Vivid colors, simple shapes, and use of ample white space characterize Carle’s illustrations. He creates his images using a collage technique with hand-painted papers, which he cuts and layers to form bright and distinctive images.
It was Dr. Charles Duke, dean of Appalachian State’s Reich College of Education, who had the idea to decorate the university’s halls and training rooms for future teachers with Carle’s illustrations for children. “Dr. Alice Naylor and Sarah Borders, who are good friends of my wife Bobbie as well as being associated with Appalachian State University, approached me when the project was just beginning. I immediately said yes, but did not know what it entailed,” Carle said. Interior designer Mark Crowell assisted with the selection of Carle’s works and design of the installation.
Carle’s works, including massive images of Brown Bear, the Sloth, and the Spider, are now part of a permanent display. The exhibit is open to the public during regular operating hours of the college.
“My background is in design, not education, but I feel strongly that children should be encouraged to learn in their own particular way, and it always means a great deal to me when an educator finds my work valuable in the classroom,” Carle said.
Carle splits his time between the Florida Keys and Blowing Rock, N.C.
“When I turned 75, I made the decision to retire from the business end of my work, and my wife Bobbie and I decided to move from our home in western Massachusetts to two places of great beauty, spending the winter in one of the Florida keys and the summer in the mountains of North Carolina,” Carle said. “Bobbie is from North Carolina and still has friends and family in the area where we live. We have a lovely view of the hills, which are sometimes covered in fog, and we both enjoy the climate there in the summer.”
Carle is working on several book projects expected to be published within the next year.