Cats vs. Dogs

Cats vs. Dogs

A special exhibition at the Zimmerli Museum that showcases illustrations from children’s literature is on display through June 2018

Illustration from My ABC Book, by Art Seiden, c. 1953
Photo: Peter Jacobs
Before cute animal videos became a YouTube sensation, images of cats and dogs captivated audiences through the pages of children’s literature. A special exhibition at the Zimmerli Art Museum of more than 40 drawings of these beloved animals features many award-winning artists with ties to New Jersey – including Roger Duvoisin, who lived and worked in the state for nearly five decades. Rutgers Today spoke with Nicole Simpson, assistant curator of prints and drawings, about the appeal of cats and dogs, and why such images are timeless.

Where were the illustrations in this exhibit curated from?
Simpson:All of the works  are from the Zimmerli Art Museum’s collection of original illustrations for children’s literature, which contains over 2,400 drawings and preparatory book-making material by more than 100 20th-century illustrators. The museum organizes regular family-friendly exhibitions of these drawings in our Duvoisin Gallery, named for the beloved illustrator of more than 140 books.

Why have cats and dogs been iconic in children’s literature over the years?
Simpson:Tales of the adventures and journeys of cats and dogs have entertained readers for generations, but their stories also can also serve as essential life lessons. Children learn about the importance of courage, patience and friendship through reading such books and they reinforce the special bond between humans and animals.

Why do such images appeal to children and adults?
Simpson:Cats and dogs are among the most popular household pets and they are often important members of our families. We are immediately drawn to such stories and pictures because of their familiarity, and it is always fun to compare the behavior and appearances of our own furry friends with their fictional counterparts.

What are some of the notable images in this exhibit?
Simpson:Visitors can trace the fast-paced pursuit by a cat in 15 illustrations for Ward Schumaker’s “Mouse Chase” or admire the playful antics of different dog breeds in Art Seiden’s nine drawings for “Puppies.” Some of the oldest and best-loved stories featuring cats and dogs are Mother Goose nursery rhymes, which are given fresh interpretations in illustrations by Roger Duvoisin and Shari Halpern, while the pleasures and perils of adopting a new puppy are captured in drawings by Frank Asch and Lois Lenski.

Do you think these illustrations were a precursor to our fascination with watching cat videos on the internet? Do you see any connection or similarity?
Simpson:Definitely. People love recording and sharing the lives of cats and dogs, whether through carefully crafted illustrations like in this exhibition or in the wildly popular photos and videos posted online. Whatever the medium, we continue to be captivated by these glimpses into the world of our feline and canine companions.

– Andrea Alexander