“A David Small World” originally opened at the NCCIL in 2001 – one year after the historic Rhodes Building became the official home to the museum.
Exactly 20 years after Small’s work was first exhibited at the museum, the NCCIL is hosting one final exhibition of his art before his entire lifeworks goes into private collection. This reinvigorated exhibit will include new pieces never displayed in public, in addition to new work yet to be published, including pieces from the upcoming Long Road to the Circus written by Betsy Bird.
“His incredibly impactful works of art have become friends of so many throughout the years,” said Trish Dressen, NCCIL Executive Director. “I have no doubt their return on our gallery walls will feel like a warm hug from a lifelong friend. We are also excited to highlight new pieces from David and once again encourage a new generation of children to know what fine art truly is by seeing the original pieces in person.”
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Small’s artistic gifts were obvious quite early to his parents and teachers. He began drawing at the age of 2. Later, his mother took him for art lessons at the Detroit Institute of Arts. As a child, he decorated the walls of the family basement with murals. In school, he became known as “the kid who could draw good,” but Small never considered a career in art because it was so easy for him.
At 21, after many years of writing plays, Small took the advice of a friend who informed him that the doodles he made on the telephone pad were better than anything he had ever written. He switched his major to art and never looked back. After getting his MFA at the Yale Graduate School of Art, Small taught art for many years on the college level, ran a film series and made satirical sketches for campus newspapers. Approaching tenure, he wrote and illustrated a picture book, Eulalie and the Hopping Head, which was published in 1981.
More picture books followed, as well as extensive work for national magazines and newspapers. His drawings appeared regularly in The New Yorker and The New York Times. His books have been translated into several languages, made into animated films and musicals, and have won many of the top awards accorded to illustration, including the 1997 Caldecott Honor and The Christopher Medal for The Gardener written by his wife, Sarah Stewart, and the 2001 Caldecott Medal for So, You Want To Be President? by Judith St. George.
To date, he has illustrated more than 40 picture books – small works with watercolor, pen and ink, and pastel. Some of his best books have been in partnership with his wife, a native of Texas. Some of their later books include The Library, The Gardener, and The Journey.
Small and Sarah Stewart make their home in an 1833 manor house on a bend of the St. Joseph River in southwest Michigan. His studio is an 1890 farmhouse also overlooking the river, just a short walk from home.
“A David Small World” opens Feb. 11 at the NCCIL during ArtWalk.