"Curious George Saves The Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey"
On view April 27 through September 18, 2011
NORFOLK, Va. – (April 2011) – Everyone knows Curious George, but few know the story behind his stories. The exhibition Curious George Saves The Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey recounts the hair-raising tale of how Margret and H. A. Rey, the German Jews who created the mischievous monkey, fled Nazi Europe for the safety of the United States. Nearly 80 original drawings, book mock-ups, personal photographs and documents reveal the dramatic story of escape and survival that became the basis for the best-selling fiction series for children. The story and exhibition appeal to all ages. The Chrysler’s exhibition is sponsored locally by the Simon Family Jewish Community Center and the Institute for Jewish Studies and Interfaith Understanding at Old Dominion University. Admission is free for Museum Members and children 12 and younger, and $5 for all others.
Curious George, the impish monkey protagonist of many adventures, may never have seen the light of day were it not for the determination and courage of his creators: illustrator H. A. Rey (1898-1977) and his wife, author and artist Margret Rey (1906-1996). They were both born in Hamburg, Germany, to Jewish families and lived together in Paris from 1936 to 1940. Hours before the Nazis marched into the city in June 1940, the Reys fled on bicycles, carrying drawings for their children’s stories, including one about a mischievous monkey, then named Fifi. Not only did the Reys save their animal characters, but they were saved by their illustrations when authorities found them in their belongings. This may explain why saving the day after a narrow escape became the premise of most of their Curious George stories.
After their fateful escape from Paris and a four-month journey across France, Spain, Portugal, and Brazil, the couple settled in New York in the fall of 1940. In all, the Reys authored and illustrated more than 30 books, most of them for children. Seven of them star Curious George. Seventy years after the monkey’s arrival in America, his antics have been translated into more than a dozen languages, including Hebrew and Yiddish, to the delight of readers, young and old, around the world.
Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey is organized by The Jewish Museum, New York, and is supported through a bequest from the estate of Lore Ross. Most of the art and documentation in the exhibition was lent by the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi. Local presentation of the exhibition is made possible through the generous support of the Simon Family Jewish Community Center, The Institute for Jewish Studies and Interfaith Understanding at Old Dominion University, WHRO Public Media, and Joan Nusbaum.
Exhibition highlights include original drawings and bright watercolors for: Raffy and the 9 Monkeys (in which Curious George makes his debut as Fifi), featuring a lonely giraffe named Raffy and the nine monkeys that become his playmates; Whiteblack the Penguin Sees the World with Whiteblack setting out on a globe-trotting pursuit of new adventures; Fifi: The Adventures of a Monkey (later published as Curious George); and subsequent American escapades of the famous monkey hero.
In addition, the exhibition features an interactive timeline, accessed via a touch-screen computer, about the Reys’ life in France from the late 1930s through their fateful escape in the summer of 1940. Visitors will be able to view pages of H. A. Rey’s journal detailing the couple’s journey to safety, images of illustrations by H. A. Rey, photographs taken by Margret Rey in France, documentary photography related to early World War II in France, historic video, and listen to an interview with the couple.
About the Reys’ Journey
H. A. Rey (né Hans Augusto Reyersbach) had no formal art training, but in the early 1920s designed and lithographed circus posters in Hamburg. Margret Rey (née Margarete Waldstein) studied art and photography at the Bauhaus School and then worked in advertising firms and photographic studios in Germany and England in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The two first met in Hamburg before Hans departed for Rio de Janeiro in 1925, to work for a relative. They were married in 1935, after Margret joined him there, following Hitler’s ascent to power in Germany.
An extended honeymoon took them to Paris, where the Reys stayed and began working on children’s books. Filled with gentle humor and illustrated with H. A. Rey’s vivid watercolors, their stories were usually formulated by Hans and later developed by Margret into a full plot.
Following the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939 and France’s declaration of war against Germany, the Reys sought refuge first in the southern region of the Gers and later in Normandy, fleeing Paris for the third and last time on June 12, 1940. Despite the difficulties, the Reys were prolific in France, publishing seven books from 1937 through 1939 (three in both French and English) and completing the manuscripts and drawings for at least four others later published in America. On October 14, 1940, the Reys finally reached New York. Within a month, four of the manuscripts they had brought with them were accepted for publication by the publisher Houghton Mifflin.
About Curious George
Whether falsely alarming the fire department while experimenting with a telephone, going up in the air with a bunch of balloons or a kite, or falling in the water after a failed attempt to fish with a mop, the little monkey known as Curious George is always in trouble, both propelled and undone by his insatiable curiosity and appetite for adventure. While the idea of the monkey’s narrow escape from danger was introduced in the first Curious George story created by the Reys in France, the concept of saving the day is only used in their later books written while in the safety of the United States. By the time the man with the yellow hat comes to his rescue, George’s capers have already been mitigated with some poetic justice. This may be understood as emblematic of the important role the character had played both in saving the Reys’ lives when fleeing Nazi Europe and later helping them rebuild their careers in the United States. In turn, the little monkey born in France acts out the fantasies of many immigrants: he lands an acting job in Hollywood soon upon arrival, advances research by traveling in a spaceship, and makes it to the front page of newspapers, all the while becoming thoroughly Americanized.
Curious George and other characters created by the Reys are copyrighted and trademarked by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, which continues to publish their stories.
For special events and programs associated with the exhibition, visit Chrysler.org.
About the Chrysler Museum of Art
The Chrysler Museum of Art is one of America’s most distinguished mid-sized art museums with a world-class collection of more than 30,000 objects, including one of the great glass collections in America. The Museum is located at 245 West Olney Road in Norfolk and is open Wednesdays, 10 a.m. -9 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sundays, noon-5 p.m. The Chrysler is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, as well as major holidays. Admission to the Museum’s permanent collection is free. Special exhibitions such as this one may have an admission fee. For exhibitions, programming and special events, visit chrysler.org or call 757-664-6200.
Contact Cindy Mackey