Growing up quickly in the small town South, I missed an opportunity to read the wildly popular books of Dr. Seuss. When Horton Hears A Who came out in 1954, I was nine years old and more interested in the Brooklyn Dodgers and earning Cub Scout merit badges. I read reluctantly and only for homework assignments.
Thirty years and some forty books later, when Seuss’ controversial The Butter Battle Book was published, I struggled with the twin efforts of relocation and career change. Reading then, started and ended with a morning newspaper.
Only now, in the reflective period of life, have The Lorax, The Grinch and Yertle The Turtle made their presence known and ended up on my reading list. Perhaps only now does The Lorax’ charming call for environmental conservation hit home. The Better Butter Book’s less subtle stand against nuclear proliferation has as much meaning today as it did in 1984.
And just now a Dr. Seuss art exhibition provides a look at two other sides of the amazing writer and illustrator. Syd Entel Galleries in nearby Safety Harbor has mounted a month long show, and on a recent afternoon I had the entire gallery to myself.
Wandering the chronological exhibit, I was struck by Dr. Seuss’ editorial cartoons and educational films made in the army during World War II. His stands against fascism and ethnic and racial discrimination reveal a strong humanitarian side that would resurface in his children’s books.
The gallery also presented personal works that the public never saw – colorful surreal paintings and sculptures of fantasy creatures – all created late at night. In his long career, Dr. Seuss won three Academy Awards, an Emmy Award, and in 1984, the Pulitzer Prize. He impresses me as that rare artistic genius who cannot help but create masterworks in everything he touches.