Cartoonists such as Walt Disney, Mort Walker and Charles Schulz are legends in their field, and created some of the most memorable cartoons and beloved comic strips ever. Works by these renowned artists, and many more, will be on display at the Bruce Museum in an exhibit entitled, Masterpieces from the Museum of Cartoon Art, running Jan. 26 through April 20.
The exhibit will showcase more than 100 original works, including an early editorial cartoon by Thomas Nast, a popular Prince Valiant Sunday page by Hal Foster, and a witty New Yorker gag by Peter Arno. There will also be many of the comic strips that many people grew up on, including strips from Peanuts, Doonesbury and Calvin and Hobbes.
The show, which will be a recreation of Greenwich’s one-time Museum of Cartoon Art’s Hall of Fame, will feature all avenues of the cartoon genre, including comic strips, newspaper panels, comic books, editorial cartoons, magazine cartoons, caricature, illustration and animation.
Walker, the late Greenwich resident best known for creating and drawing Beetle Bailey, founded the museum in 1974, before it moved to Port Chester in 1977 and then Boca Raton, Fla., in 1996. The collection was eventually donated to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum in 2008.
While the museum was open, 32 artists were initiated into its prestigious hall, including Walt Disney, Milton Caniff, Chuck Jones, Rube Goldberg, Al Capp, and political cartoonist, Herblock.
For the Bruce exhibition, Mort’s son Brian Walker, a cartoonist himself who works out of a studio in Norwalk, and former director of the Museum of Cartoon Art, is serving as guest curator.
The idea for the exhibit came about when Dan Buckley, exhibit designer at the Bruce Museum, walked into Brian’s studio and reminisced about a cartoon class he took with the artist in 1975 at the Museum of Cartoon Art.
“In addition to my work on the syndicated comic strips — Beetle Bailey and Hi & Lois, I also do books about cartoon history and exhibit cartoon art in museums all over the world, and we talked about the possibility of doing a cartoon exhibit at the Bruce,” Brian said. “Dan came back a little while later and suggested we do it as a tribute to the Museum of Cartoon Art based on its history in Greenwich.”
As the first museum in the world solely dedicated to exhibiting, collecting and preserving cartoon art, this meant a lot to Brian and many of the cartoon artists around the world.
“The museum had a long history of triumphs and tragedies and ended up at Ohio State University in Columbus, so I thought this was a great way to revisit the beginnings of this museum and also as a tribute to my father, who founded the museum,” Brian said. “It was always his dream for the public to be exposed to original cartoons in a setting like this.”
Having grown up in Greenwich, Brian is thrilled that the Bruce Museum is dedicating the space for this show, which will include 100 of the best pieces from the vast collection.
“It will be a spectacular exhibit of artwork,” Brian said. “I’m very involved with the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library, so it took just a little bit of arm twisting to convince them this was a worthy exhibit at a first-class institution.”
In addition to original prints, the exhibit will also feature displays documenting the formative years of the Museum of Cartoon Art, the European roots of cartoons and comics, and a video presentation of classic animation.
While Brian admitted that cartoonists today face more challenges than those of yesteryear, he doesn’t ever see the industry dying out.
“What’s ironic is that yesterday’s popular culture is tomorrow’s nostalgia and it becomes part of our history eventually,” Brian said. “The media base, particularly for newspaper comics, is going through a very challenging time. I don’t think newspapers are going to die, and I think comic strips will be part of the legacy going forward.”
At the same time, he added, scholarship and interest in cartoon history and vintage comics — especially at the popular Comic-Cons around the country — have created more of a buzz for cartoon art than at any other time in history.
“Many of the publishers are coming out with really handsome reprint volumes, and I think there has been increasing interest in the artwork itself, and not just in the United States,” Brian said. “I did an exhibit at the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid, one of the top contemporary art museums in the world, and it was devoted solely to George Herriman’s Krazy Kat. It was fantastic.”
For the Bruce exhibit, Brian had some tough choices to make as far as what to display. He was very familiar with the collection, having been a part of the original museum, and there are over 80,000 pieces of original art and countless related material of books, magazines and other things.
“I started searching through the database and went back and looked at some previous exhibits, and just cherry-picked the collection and sent the wish list to Ohio,” Brian said. “I spent three days in Ohio sorting everything out. We have some really spectacular stuff.”
Among his favorites are a Little Nemo in Slumberland by Windsor McKay, a Prince Valiant page by Hal Foster, Polly and Her Pals by Cliff Sterrett, a Thomas Nast political cartoon from the 1880s and a Yellow Kid piece hand-colored from 1898. There’s also plenty of animation art from Disney, New Yorker cartoons and much more.
The Bruce Museum will also present a lecture on Feb. 18 entitled, “Breaking Into the Boys Club: A Whirlwind History of Women and Cartooning,” by Jenny Robb, curator and associate professor at the Billy Ireland. There will also be a panel tribute to the Golden Age of Cartooning in Connecticut with Cullen Murphy, Chance Browne and Walkers’ three sons Brian, Greg and Neil on March 7.
“The exhibit will appeal to people of all ages and certainly serious scholars of cartooning, but probably people who used to come to the museum when it was in Connecticut, so it will be a little nostalgia for some,” Brian said. “It’s going to be something special.”
For more information, call 203-869-0376 or visit brucemuseum.org.