Seuss' creations brought to life in sculpture garden memorial

Friday, May 31, 2002

SPRINGFIELD, Mass.

Not in a boat. Not in a tree. A child's city he drew. It was different you see.

The New England city where a zoo superintendent's son, named Theodor Geisel, grew into children's book author Dr. Seuss, is preparing to unveil a national memorial to the creator of the Cat in the Hat.

Every child knows a staid, bronze bust just wouldn't do for the man who wrote "Green Eggs and Ham." So, in keeping with his special magic, Geisel is being remembered with a sculpture garden of the fantastical critters he brought to life in his books.

Draped for the formal unveiling today -- with only an insouciant topknot and Horton The Elephant's trunk peeking out -- the sculptures frolic on the wide green linking the city library and its four museums that gave wing to the author's imagination.

"He often said that he spent more time here than in school," said library and museum director Joseph Carvalho.

The opening of the $6.2 million sculpture garden will launch a weekend of Seussian celebrations for young and old, including a "read-a-thon" and a parade down Mulberry Street, whose whimsical Victorian homes were the setting for Geisel's first book, "To Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street," published in 1937.

Although he spent most of his adult life in Southern California, images of his childhood city of inventors and industrialists appear throughout Geisel's books -- the multiple arches of a bridge, the triple smokestacks of a plant, the bushy eyebrows of a department store magnate who made his clerks work on Christmas Day.

All of it filtered through the imagination of a young boy, lying in bed a few blocks from the zoo, listening to the roars of lions.

"We hope to spark imagination and creativity in a new generation," Carvalho said. "It's all still here."

Geisel, who died in 1991, is depicted at his drawing board, with the Cat in the Hat peering over his shoulder.

"If you are 4 or 5 years old, you can look right into his eyes," said sculptor Lark Grey Dimond-Cates, Geisel's stepdaughter. "That's just the way he sat when he was dreaming up something with one foot on the table and his hands over his knees."

She worked for seven years translating her stepfather's drawings into bronze. In keeping with her mother Audrey's wishes, they had to be at least life-sized and something on which children could climb. Dimond-Cates said she tried to depict them as he would.

"I got to feel as if I was working with Ted," she said, acknowledging that the work became her own tribute to the gentle man, who fostered her interest in art. Sometimes, she said, she would even talk to him as if he was there.

A 14-foot-high Horton, carrying the thistle on which tiny Whoville rests, squats on a massive open book. Also spilling out of the book are Thidwick-the-Big-Hearted-Moose, Sam-I-Am with a plate of green eggs and ham, Sally and her brother, and Thing One and Thing Two.

Yertle and a teetering 10-foot-high tower of turtles rise from a reflecting pool by the art museum. The Lorax, carrying the environmental warning "Unless ...," stands guard outside the science museum.

The Grinch, which Dimond-Cates said "came out almost better in bronze, more twisted and a little more evil," peers around an empty storyteller's chair.

The chair is backed by a 10-foot-tall book with Gertrude McFuzz perched on top. The bronze book carries the complete text of Dr. Seuss' final work, "Oh, the Places You'll Go!"


On the Web: http://www.catinthehat.org

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