Bugs Bunny and his loony pals set up shop at the Berkshire Museum

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PITTSFIELD — Sufferin' succotash! What's up, Doc, at the Berkshire Museum?

Sylvester the Cat, Bugs Bunny and the rest of their loony friends are paying the South Street cultural venue a visit for the next four months, that's what's up.

Starting this weekend and wrapping up May 10, the museum will host "The Art of Warner Bros. Cartoons," a traveling exhibition of original artwork from the world of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. An opening celebration featuring family-friendly activities and cartoon screenings will be held Saturday, from 1 to 5 pm.

The show features 160 pieces of drawings, paintings, and transparent celluloids, or cels as they are known in the animation industry. The artwork traces the history of Bugs, Sylvester, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd and other animated icons from their debut in 1930 to the early 1960s. They starred in cartoon shorts as an audience warm-up to Warner Bros. feature-length films in movie theaters.

The museum's Craig Langlois is overseeing the exhibit, he says, that will resonate with all ages, especially the Baby Boomers.

"It's a piece of Americana, a snapshot of American culture," he said. "It's also nostalgia for our generation which grew up with these cartoons on Saturday mornings."

Alongside the colorful animated images, visitors will find scientific and historical specimens from the museum's diverse collection that provide real-world context to the animated favorites.

"What does a real coyote look like? What are the physics behind rocket skates? How do science and art blend to create animation," asked Berkshire Museum executive director Jeff Rodgers.

Museum patrons, Rodgers notes, will find the cartoon characters compared to a preserved coyote, canary, rabbit, and duck compared to Wile E. Coyote, Tweety Bird, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

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Additionally, the museum's collection of cast iron frying pans, six shooters, and helmets will be on display representing the occasional violent nature of the cartoons.

"It was slapstick comedy to the extreme," Langlois said.

Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies were Warner Bros. answer to Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies that showcased each movie studios' music compositions through long-since-forgotten cartoon characters.

Warner Bros. animation gained notoriety after hiring directors Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng and voice actor Mel Blanc. Five of the studio's animated shorts would win Academy Awards with the face of Looney Tunes, Bugs Bunny, garnering a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Saturday mornings throughout the exhibit, classic cartoon aficionados can watch their favorite Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies return to the big screen in the museum theater.

"I can vividly recall acting out scenes with my friends on Saturday," Langlois said. 'We wanted to see how many times we could say, 'Rabbit season. Duck season' before we would annoy our parents."

The fun continues in the museum's Lab 102 space where adults and children can experiment with animation techniques through hands-on activities.

Langlois says it's no coincidence "The Art of Warner Bros. Cartoons" is running parallel to the current feature exhibition, "She Shapes History," running through May 25. The two shows present a unique and different view of American life and culture in the 20th century, according to Langlois.

"She Shapes History" celebrates 100 years of women's suffrage in the United States, putting the spotlight on exceptional women, their work, and how their accomplishments have changed U.S. history since the American Revolution.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshoireeagle.co


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