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More places to go: Dr. Seuss Museum to open in Springfield

  • The entryway of the new Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Characters Thing One and Thing Two from the Dr. Seuss books in one of the rooms in the new Museum in Springfield. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • At left, an arch way at the entrance to the new the museum

  • The archway at the entrance of the new Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Characters from the Dr. Seuss books in one of the rooms in the new Museum in Springfield. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Figurines that belonged to Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel in a room made to look like his living room at the new Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Characters from the Dr. Seuss books in one of the rooms in the new Museum in Springfield. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Leagrey Dimond, a stepdaughter of Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, talks about her life with him and the opening of the new museum in Springfield. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Photographs and other items that belonged to family members have been donated to the new Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Leagrey Dimond, a stepdaughter of Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, looks through photographs and other items that belonged to family members and have been donated to the new Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Leagrey Dimond, a stepdaughter of Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, talks about her life with him and the opening of the new museum in Springfield. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Characters from the Dr. Seuss books in one of the rooms in the new Museum in Springfield. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dr. Seuss books on a shelf in one of the rooms in the new museum in Springfield. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Leagrey Dimond, a stepdaughter of Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, holds a drawing Geisel had made for her that is being donated to the new museum in Springfield. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Leagrey Dimond, a stepdaughter of Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, holds a drawing Geisel had made for her sister that is being donated to the new museum in Springfield. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A drawing made by Theodor Geisel when his health was failing; it has been donated to the museum by family members. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Leagrey Dimond, a stepdaughter of Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, talks about her life with him and the opening of the new museum in Springfield. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Leagrey Dimond, a stepdaughter of Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, points to items used by her and her family made to look like the living room they grew up in that are being shown in the new Dr. Seuss Museum. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Theodor Geisel chair and drawing table shown in the new museum in Springfield. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • John Simpson, the chief artist, designer and project director at the Dr. Seuss Museum, talks about creating the characters, painting and spaces in the museum. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Above, Courtney Thibodeau, a Umass student, paints murals in part of the Dr. Seuss Museum that will open June 3rd. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Courtney Thibodeau, a UMass Amherst junior, paints murals in part of the Dr. Seuss Museum that will open June 3rd. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • John Simpson, the chief artist, designer and project director at the Dr. Seuss Museum, talks about creating the characters, painting and spaces in the museum. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Courtney Thibodeau, a UMass Amherst junior, paints murals in part of the Dr. Seuss Museum that will open June 3. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The new Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS



Staff Writer
Thursday, May 18, 2017

He’s arguably Springfield’s most famous citizen, one of the world’s best-loved children’s authors and illustrators, whose books have sold in the millions and been translated into some 25 languages.

But the creative force behind “The Cat in the Hat,” “Horton Hears a Who!” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” and dozens of other titles has never had a museum dedicated to his craft and life — until now.

Come June 3, the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield will throw open its doors at the Springfield Museums, the culmination of years of planning, fundraising and, over the past year, extensive painting and renovation.

From a recreation of the California studio in which Theodor Seuss Geisel, born in 1904 in Springfield, worked on his art, to colorful murals crafted from his illustrations, to an interactive education center that will be dedicated to getting more children to read, the museum will offer a fitting legacy both to the man and his long interest in improving children’s literacy, said Springfield Museums President Kay Simpson.

“It’s a great honor to be opening this,” Simpson said during a tour Thursday of the museum, which is still under construction. “We think it can also be a tourism boost for the city and a point of community pride.”

The museum building, which dates to the late 1920s, formerly held the collections of the Connecticut Valley Historical Society. Those holdings were moved to the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, also part of the Springfield Museums, in 2009.

Aside from showcasing many examples of Geisel’s work, such as sculptures of some of his famous whimsical characters, the Dr. Seuss Museum will include many personal items — photographs, old letters, furniture and collectibles — from his post-WWII home in La Jolla, California.

One of his stepdaughters, Leagrey Dimond, who was part of Thursday’s tour of the new facility, described sorting through boxes of old material to find memorabilia she and her sister, Lark Grey Dimond-Cates, wanted to donate to the museum.

“There are a couple of pictures and a few other things I couldn’t let go of,” Dimond said. “But we know these other things will be in very good hands here … It means the world to us to be able to share it with people.”

Aside from being a very disciplined worker and something of a homebody, her stepfather, who died in 1991, was a gracious man who always found time for his family and had a dry sense of humor, Dimond, 59, added.

“He never held himself out as an artist who couldn’t be interrupted at work,” she said. “Ted was always Ted … He drew from the world around him and the experiences he’d had, and talking and being with people was a part of that.”

Recasting old space

The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss traces its origins back to the June 2002 opening at Springfield Museums of the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, whose bronze recreations of Seuss characters like Horton the Elephant were designed by Lark Grey Dimond-Cates.

Simpson, the Springfield Museums president, said museum officials began considering the idea of a Dr. Seuss museum after that. In 2009, when the old Connecticut Valley Historical Society building became vacant, the idea picked up steam, and a long-range fundraising campaign was initiated.

“Originally we had envisioned having the museum just on the ground floor,” said Simpson. “But then Leagrey and Lark came forward and said they wanted to contribute to it, and we were able to expand the design.”

Now, the building’s second floor will be dedicated to recreating some of the rooms of Geisel’s California house, such as his studio. His drafting board, an easel, an old upholstered chair he sat in while working and a black rotary phone are part of the setup.

On the ground floor, Springfield artist John Simpson, husband of Kay, has overseen the design of several colorful rooms that include murals, floor coverings and large foam/fiberglass sculptures of Dr. Seuss characters. These rooms will also have several interactive stations, with video screens and other elements that can, for instance, recreate sound effects from Seuss stories.

“I love his characters,” said John Simpson, who grew up reading Dr. Seuss stories. “We’ve worked really hard to try to build them into our design.”

Simpson, who also teaches art at the Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has enlisted several UMass students in the past year to assist with the painting and the design of some of the interactive features. Junior Courtney Thibodeau was there on Thursday, filling in the colors of a mural for which Simpson had sketched the outlines on a basement wall.

The basement, which will serve as the museum’s education and reading center, is getting a complete painting overhaul, Simpson said. Meanwhile, one room on the ground floor recreates Geisel’s childhood bedroom, in a home on Fairfield Avenue in Springfield, where young Ted drew on the walls.

That room will have a touch-screen wall so that children can pretend they’re drawing on the wall as well.

And the museum’s entrance? It opens into a scene from Geisel’s first book, “And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street,” from 1937; that story was inspired by the real Mulberry Street in Springfield.

When he thinks of Geisel’s strengths, John Simpson ticks off several qualities: his draftsmanship, his sense of humor, his artfulness and his concern for humanity. Though Geisel drew anti-Japanese propaganda cartoons during WWII that today would be considered racist, he “had an epiphany” when he was older and realized his views were wrong, Simpson noted.

“He was able to grow and see things differently,” he said. “His concern for people, for understanding and tolerance and peace, really comes through in his work.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.