The Chuck Jones Gallery is a portal to your childhood, where memories of comic books, cartoons and bedtime stories are leaping across the walls. The collection of work on display from Jones’s career as an animator at Warner Brothers is a standout feature alone, but that’s not why I was there yesterday. This is the final week the gallery is hosting ‘Hats Off to Dr. Seuss’ – a unique display of the outlandish headgear collected by one of the world’s gone-but-not-forgotten storytelling geniuses. The exhibit comes at an appropriate time, exactly 75 years after the first publication of The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins .
The wonderfully surreal tales by Dr. Seuss (or Theodore Geisel, according to his birth certificate) have been staple reading for kids, their parents and grandparents across the globe for decades. It only seems fitting that the man who dreamed up Green Eggs and Ham and How The Grinch Stole Christmas was such an eccentric and fun character himself. The exhibit showcases a selection of his finest hats, which he kept in a closet at his La Jolla house along with a multitude of others. You’ll have no trouble recognizing the pieces that inspired characters like the Cat in the Hat and Bartholomew Cubbins, in addition to others that simply show off what a riot he must have been to hang around.
Some of my favorite parts of the exhibition were the personal accounts from his wife, Audrey, Chuck Jones and Michael Frith (editor in chief at Beginner Books) on what it was like interacting and working with Giesel. Chuck Jones’s comments from the war (teh first time he and Geisel worked together and galvanized their friendship) were really fascinating, and it made me think a lot about the messages of peace, tolerance and love embedded into the fabric of all Dr. Seuss’s stories. On a professional level, personal anecdotes about Frith and him pulling out the hats to draw inspiration during late night mental roadblocks were also really fun to read. The mock-up drawings and letters between Frith and Geisel (on changes made to the transcripts) were also really interesting from an artist’s point of view; it was a real treat to see remaining evidence from the days when he was still in the process of creating these wonderful tales that have gone on to enrich the lives of children generations later.
One of the amazing things you really take away from the exhibition (in my opinion) is a longing to go back and re-read the dog-eared copies of your favorite Dr. Seuss books at home. It gives you a fresh appreciation for a man (a La Jolla resident later in life, too) who blessed the world with his imagination by tapping into the characters he had living in his head.
This Sunday (August 25) is the last day you can see the exhibit before it moves on to Sausalito. The Chuck Jones Gallery is located on 323 Fifth Avenue, in the Gas Lamp Quarter of San Diego.