at the Brandywine River Museum Starting January 21
Although perhaps best known today as the creator of Shrek, William Steig (1907-2003) first achieved fame for his thousands of cartoons and hundreds of covers for The New Yorker magazine as well as his published books of drawings. His humorous situational gags offer keen observations on human relationships.
From cranks and curmudgeons to optimists and dreamers, city dwellers and rural folk, martyrs and sadists, extroverts and introverts, lovers and enemies, children and parents, Steig richly delineated all with his pen. His intent was to reflect simultaneously people's innermost feelings and often contrary outward behavior. His salient observations are often presented in a quiet, unassuming way that encourages viewers' engagement.
Steig began creating cartoons for The New Yorker in 1930 and continued for 70 years. He was the first to write his own gag lines for cartoons. Prior to that, writers supplied captions for artists to illustrate. Steig's pun, provide amusing image and word comparisons, and provoke laughter at literal depictions of linguistic phrases.
Over the years, Steig's melding of words and ideas shaped his style. In early magazine cartoons his drawings were fully descriptive scenes in ink wash and line. Soon, however, he eliminated the heavy washes and rendered his ideas primarily with lines that form expressive shapes, descriptive textures and distinctive patterns. While some cartoons are spare and simple, others are a riot of curling lines, dots and dashes, and sometimes accented with colored washes.
Steig's highly personal style developed from his desire to understand states of mind. Beginning in the late 1930s and through the 1950s, he used drawing to articulate ideas about depression and anxiety, relationships between men and women, competition and jealousy, self-doubt and self-importance, loneliness and isolation, love and lust, sympathy and caring.
By the 1960s, Steig's humor had gained power through the artist's varied techniques with the pen. In some drawings lines are strong and purposeful. In others they wobble and droop. He made images that look like a child's drawing of line-connected dots or scratchy doodles. Other images are sinuously elegant, and some gaily embroidered with filigree. Works by other artists, and especially Pablo Picasso's cubist paintings and drawings, were a potent influence on Steig's creation of abstract figures and faces. The fractured, contorted forms that Steig rendered were means to suggest character and mindset. Over time, Steig developed a rich visual vocabulary that conveys pithy, amusing statements about the human condition.
At age 60 and at the peak of his career, Steig began writing and illustrating books for children. He is celebrated for over 30 books for young audiences, including the Caldecott-winning Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (1969) and Shrek! (1990).
The exhibition, Comic Catharsis: A Gift of Cartoons by William Steig, will feature more than 100 works donated to the Brandywine River Museum in 2010 by Jeanne Steig from the artist's estate as well as selected works for children on loan from the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art and from private collections.
The Brandywine River Museum is located on U.S. Route 1 in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. The museum is open daily, except Christmas Day, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults; $6 for seniors, students and children ages 6 to 12; and free for members and children under six. Museum admission is free on Sunday mornings from 9:30 to noon (except during the Annual Antiques Show on Memorial Day weekend), from January 15 through November 18. For more information, please call 610-388-2700 or visit www.brandywinemuseum.org.