By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
A new exhibit at the Mazza Museum is all about dummies — dummy books, that is.
A dummy book, according to museum curator Dan Chudzinski, is a slang term in the industry for the preliminary draft of a book that an artist prepares, usually to show to an editor or publisher.
“These are not created with the intention of the public seeing them,” he said.
However, the University of Findlay’s Mazza Museum has permission to display its dummy books.
“They were gifted to us with the understanding that they could be used to help illustrate the picture book development process,” Chudzinski said.
These books are special because they were the first spark of inspiration behind a book. However, not all of them became published books. Money is usually the driving force behind that decision, Chudzinski explained.
The exhibit, “Art for Dummies,” can be found in the Wilson Gallery. This is the first time these 19 dummy books have been made public.
Visitors will see a picture from the original dummy book in a shadow box alongside the finished piece that was used for publication. Chudzinski has also scanned each page of the dummy books which can be seen in a folder beneath the art. And in cases where an actual book was published, the book is on display, too.
Works by Blair Lent and Steven Kellogg are among those featured.
Lent created two dummy books for a proposed book called “Elephant House.” Even though Lent is a Caldecott Medal winner, the book was never published, Chudzinski said.
“You’re seeing something that obviously this artist put a lot of time and a lot of thought into,” he said. “He did two dummy books for it, and it never saw the light of day. If you want to see that book, this is the only place you can see it.”
There are three of Kellogg’s dummy books in the exhibit, each representing a different period of his career. Chudzinski said Kellogg put a lot of time and effort into his early dummy books because he had to “sell himself” to the editors and publishers.
That process changes toward the end of the illustrator’s career when he’s published over 100 books, he said. “Kellogg can do a very loose, scribbled dummy book that doesn’t have to be in color. He’s not as much of a gamble. The publishers know he’s a successful seller.”
Two of the earliest dummy books in the museum’s collection — “Rumpelstiltskin” and “Tommy Turtle and the Little Red School” — are also on display. These were created by Edward McCandlish, an illustrator, cartoonist and writer of children’s books.
“A lot of the dummy books were in the collection before I came to the museum, so I had limited information as to what they were and why we have them,” Chudzinski said. “And I don’t know why some of these never were published.”
“Rumpelstiltskin” is interesting, he said, because it cuts off in the middle of the story. “So I don’t know why it would be abandoned.”
The Tommy the Turtle book was very developed, Chudzinski noted. Visitors can read the entire manuscript in the scanned dummy book.
“Edward McCandlish had an interesting life story that I’ve only had a bit of time to explore,” Chudzinski said. “But he did have seven daughters and his nickname for them was the ‘Bunny Tots.’ And he did a whole series of the ‘Bunny Tots’ that were based on his seven daughters.”
Chudzinski said “The Hit of the Party,” by Aliki Brandenberg, offers one of the most important lessons in the exhibit.
“When Aliki and her husband created the book in 1984, she envisioned the family in the book. They were inspired by a family she knew that was multiracial. There’s multiethnicity in the family, and she illustrated the first version with that family,” he said.
However, the publisher told her the book would sell better if it featured a white family.
“So she redrew the entire book. And the version that the world knows is the version with the white family,” Chudzinski said. “This is the only time that people are getting to see this (dummy book), and it’s the first time it’s been out.”
“You would never get away with that comment today,” he added.
Another dummy book displayed is called “Zoo Day,” by Lizzy Rockwell. She heard that Mazza had opened a new gallery space at the ProMedica Museum of Natural History at the Toledo Zoo and was looking for zoo-related artwork. That dummy book still includes all of the editor’s notes, Chudzinski said.
Visitors can also see changes made in Nancy Carlson’s book, “Think Big!”
“She did the entire dummy book, and I believe his name was Henry the Mouse who was the main character. And by the time the book is published, he’d become Vinnie the Frog,” Chudzinski said. “And I have no explanation, but she redrew the entire book with a frog as the main character as opposed to a mouse.”
Part of the reason for the display is to bring out some of the more unusual pieces in the museum’s collection. With nearly 15,000 works, the museum is only able to display about 2% at any given time, Chudzinski said.
“I’m always trying to come up with creative new ways to show things,” he said. “These are pieces that just don’t get out very much.”
Many of the dummy books are also quite delicate, as the artists often used the cheapest materials they had on hand. As a result, these handmade books are becoming increasingly rare, Chudzinski said.
“Most things are now done digitally, which makes a lot of sense because it’s faster and easier to edit,” he said. “So these have become antiquated as a medium, and that makes them even more precious and even more rare.”
The exhibit will be on display for about two years.