Between Worlds: The Art and Design of Leo Lionni



Norman Rockwell Museum (9 Glendale Road, Stockbridge, MA 01262, Stockbridge MA)

Norman Rockwell Museum opens the first major American retrospective dedicated to the art and design work of the groundbreaking modernist designer and children’s book illustrator Leo Lionni (1910-1999), working closely with Annie Lionni, the artist’s granddaughter.

In an opening panel, guest co-curators Steven Heller, a noted author and illustration and design historian, will talk with Leonard S. Marcus, one of the world’s foremost authorities on children’s books and the illustrators and authors who create them, Annie Lionni, steward of Lionni’s art and legacy, and Stephanie Haboush Plunkett, Deputy Director and Chief Curator at the Norman Rockwell Museum. A members preview and reception will follow.

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About the artist

Lionni is known for bringing psychological and moral depth to picture books and as one of the first illutrators to work with collage in picture books, including Frederick, Inch by Inch, Pezzettino, Matthew’s Dream, and others, which have been published around the world.

As the old distinction between fine and applied art came up for lively reconsideration after the Second World War, the museum says, Leo Lionni emerged as one of the international design community’s indispensable pathfinders and bridge-builders. Idealistic and globally minded, Lionni viewed pithy, smart, deceptively simple graphic design as a worthy contribution to the post-war effort to reassert democratic values and establish a visual common language to unite people across generations and cultural boundaries.

He pursued his creative vision across graphic design, art direction at Fortune and Print magazines, the creation of 40 children’s books and personal works including printmaking, photography, drawing, painting and sculpture.

The show follows Lionni’s experiences as an Italian American artist, from his early life in Amsterdam, Brussels and Genoa, his first inspirations and the terrarium that opened a lifelong fascination with natural forms, to freelance work, the prototype issue of Sports Illustrated and the Museum of Modern Art, including work for the Family of Man exhibition curated by Edward Steichen.

“Design is form,” Leonni said, “Sometimes it is decorative form, and has no other function that to give pleasure to the eye. Often it is expressive form, related to conceptual content, to meaning. It is always abstract; but like a gesture or a a tone of voice it has the power to command and hold attention, to create symbols, to clarify ideas.”