Museum invites visitors into colorful world of Eric Carle

A large-format collage from “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by children’s book author and illustrator Eric Carle greets visitors to an exhibition of Carle’s work at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

ATLANTA — Atlanta’s High Museum of Art is inviting visitors into a colorful world populated by playful animals and imaginative children.

“I See a Story: The Art of Eric Carle” is open now and features more than 80 collages from 16 books by the author of children’s favorites like “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “The Grouchy Ladybug.”

Carle’s bright images explore themes including childhood, nature and journeys.

Adults can revel in the nostalgia of books they read as children or read to their own children, while kids are treated to an exhibition arranged with them in mind. The collages are hung just a few feet off the ground, and a scavenger hunt provides an opportunity to engage more fully with the art.

A close look at the collages helps visitors understand how Carle works. He uses acrylic paint on white tissue paper to create bright sheets that he stores grouped by color in his studio. When he’s creating a collage, he selects a sheet from his collection and cuts it using a razor or tears it by hand before layering the pieces into colorful scenes.

The works in the exhibition span five decades and are drawn from the collection of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts.

The High is the only venue where the exhibition will be shown.

Once the exhibition is over, the highly light-sensitive works will be removed from their frames and matting to be returned to the Carle Museum’s vault for 10 years, High director of education Virginia Shearer said.

“I feel like everybody who lives here should realize what a gift it is and should come down and see it,” she said of the exhibition.

Carle, who is 86, is formally retired and spends much of his time in the Florida Keys, but he still enjoys working in his studio space in Northampton, Massachusetts, near the Carle Museum.

He was born to German parents in Syracuse, New York.

His family returned to Germany when he was 6. He moved to New York City in 1952 and worked as a graphic designer in The New York Times’ promotion department. He later worked as art director for an advertising agency.

He turned to children’s books in 1967 when author Bill Martin Jr. asked him to illustrate a story that became “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” The first book he wrote and illustrated himself was “1, 2, 3 to the Zoo” in 1968, followed by “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” in 1969.

Carle draws on his own life experiences for inspiration, said Ellen Keiter, chief curator of the Carle Museum. Insects and animals are drawn from his memories of childhood walks with his father.

Some of the highlights of the exhibition are five works from the 1987 edition of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” the original eight-page collage of the blue whale from “The Grouchy Ladybug” and original 1967 collages of characters from “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?”

If you go

I SEE A STORY: THE ART OF ERIC CARLE: Through Jan. 8, High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta; www.high.org, 404-733-5000. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and until 9 p.m. Fridays; noon-5 p.m. Sundays. Adults, $19.50; students with ID and seniors 65 and over, $16.50; children 6-17, $12; children 5 and under, free.