STOCKBRIDGE — A gingerbread boy dances merrily in a house of gingerbread. A musk ox gives shelter to a variety of animal friends on a snowy plain. A hedgehog blasts off on a space adventure. To enter the world of author/illustrator Jan Brett is to enter a wonderland of folklore, magic and whimsy.
In the pages of her children's books, Brett, 71, who owns a home and studio in Tyringham, creates entire worlds where mittens magically expand to fit a whole host of animals, chickens attend royal balls and trolls cause trouble on Christmas.
Now, for the first time, Brett's watercolor illustrations are filling the walls of the Norman Rockwell Museum, where "Jan Brett: Stories Near and Far" is on display through March 6, 2022. And Brett, herself, will be at the museum on Dec. 11 to celebrate the launch of her latest work "Jan Brett's The Nutcracker." Brett will be on hand to sign pre-ordered books throughout the day. Advanced registration is required.
In all, the exhibit contains about 120 illustrations, across three galleries, along with items she has used for reference work.
"In many ways, it's kind of a retrospective, because it goes from about 1999 to her most current book, which is 'The Nutcracker.' We have 10 examples from that. And we put up one of her books in full, 'Cozy,' her 2020 book about a musk ox, in the arctic, who protects the other animals in the cold winter. He's lost his family for a little while, but finds them in the end. Most of the books, we have a selection of about two to six works," said Stephanie Haboush Plunkett, deputy director and chief curator at the Norman Rockwell Museum.
"Some of them, such as 'Cinders, A Chicken Cinderella,' we have 12 of those [illustrations]. She owns fancy Bantams. She takes them on the road and she has won many prizes. She's also a marathon runner. We did visit with [Brett] in Tyringham; we did a nice interview with her and we recorded her reading three books."
The first gallery features works with holiday themes: "The Three Snow Bears," "Gingerbread Baby," "Gingerbread Christmas," "The Animal's Santa," "Home for Christmas," "Christmas Trolls," "Berlioz The Bear," "The Nutcracker," and "The Night Before Christmas."
"She loves these holiday subjects and winter is kind of her favorite season. She has a daughter who lives in Alaska and goes to visit. She grew up surrounded by farm animals in her hometown of Hingham," Plunkett said. "What Jan has done, which I think is interesting, is she travels to many locations that she's illustrating. She'll visit museums and wildlife sanctuaries and she will bring home clothing, artifacts to reference and when she get's back, she weaves them all into her illustrations."
A few of the works feature familiar places in the Berkshires. "Berlioz The Bear" takes place at Tanglewood, summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, of which her husband, Joe Hearne, is a member. In "The Night Before Christmas," Brett includes her own homage to Rockwell's famous "Home for Christmas (Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas), 1967." The illustration, the only piece in the show not personally owned by Brett, is on loan from the Red Lion Inn. Another illustration features a character based on Alexander Brown, son of the late Ann Fitzpatrick Brown, who owned Blantyre.
"One thing about this show is that we hung it lower," Plunkett said. "We normally hang shows at 58 inches to the center of what you are hanging. In this case, we went down to 52 inches, because we want to be sure kids could see it. And, also because there is so much intricacy, it's a little bit nicer to have it closer."
The museum also created three scavenger hunts that encourage visitors to look closely at the art work as they travel trough the galleries, as Brett's work includes borders filled with other scenes and characters.
In the second and third galleries, the walls are filled with brightly-colored illustrations from works including: "Cozy," "The Mermaid, "The Turnip," "Cinder, A Chicken Cinderella," "The Umbrella," "The Snowy Nap," "The Turnip," "Honey … Honey … Lion!," and "Hedgie Blasts Off!"
"I think it's a really nice show to see over the holidays," Plunkett said.