Eloise Hops Off the Page and into the New-York Historical Society
If you're drawn to classic children's literature, it's time to don your fanciest frock and head over to the New-York Historical Society where a rawther special guest has taken up residence.
Eloise, the brain child of cabaret singer-turned author Kay Thompson and illustrator Hilary Knight has taken over the museum's second floor, bringing her precocious spirit and side kicks Weenie and Skipperdee along to the gallery, which was previously home to other beloved NYC characters like Mo Willems' Pigeon, Knuffle Bunny, and Elephant and Piggie.
Eloise at the Museum features the antics of the mischievous protagonist and gives a glimpse into her life at The Plaza Hotel. From the reimagination of the hotel's grand lobby as the entry point to the exhibit to the recreation of Eloise's own bedroom as a story nook, The Plaza serves as a backdrop for the exhibit in much the same way it's a sub-character in the books.
Interactive elements let young fans engage with the exhibit.
Young fans will appreciate the "house phones" lining the lobby entrance, where you'll hear Bernadette Peters reading excerpts from the four beloved Eloise titles: Eloise, Eloise in Paris, Eloise at Christmastime, and Eloise in Moscow. Upon entering the exhibit's main galleries, kids can press a button on an old-fashioned record player to hear Thompson singing her song, "Eloise," which was a top-40 hit in 1956 during the height of the Eloise craze. The bedroom also draws visitors in as Eloise's bed and bookcases serve as a perfect place to curl up with one of her stories while mom and dad peruse the rest of the exhibit.
Listen in to the top 40 hit song "Eloise" as it plays from an old-fashioned record player.
There are walls dedicated to both Thompson and Knight telling the story of their unlikely partnership and rise to fame behind Eloise and beyond. There are original sketches from Knight as he worked through the creative process of nailing down exactly what Eloise and her sidekick, Weenie, would look like, as well as framed drawings from Eloise in Moscow, and pop-culture artifacts like Eloise toys, dolls, clothes, and an Eloise-themed menu from The Plaza during her popularity (where Eloise is still a star today). Whimsical illustrations dot the gallery walls reminding visitors of Eloise's precocious personality and hilarious antics.
This onetime stolen Eloise painting was restored after being recovered from a dumpster in 1962.
The star of the show, however, just may be the large portrait of Eloise, painted by Knight as a birthday present for Thompson in 1956. It was stolen from its roost at The Plaza in 1960 and its disappearance was headline news. A muffled, anonymous caller alerted Knight to its whereabouts in 1962 and he rescued it, damaged and frameless, from a dumpster before stowing it in his closet for 55 years, only to have it revived and restored for this exhibition. An iPad mounted alongside the painting shows the painstaking work that went into saving the painting and a related program is set for October 1 where families can learn about the lost painting and its restoration.
Other exhibit-specific programming includes a pair of family weekends, including one July 8–9, where you can participate in a "Rawther Fancy Party," participate in a ukulele sing-a-long, and meet the illustrator and have your favorite Eloise tome autographed. The second family weekend is set for September 30–October 1. There will also be regular Eloise storytimes and trio of opportunities to catch Eloise on the big screen with viewings of Eloise at the Plaza, the 2003 film, which stars Julie Andrews as Nanny.
Curated by The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Eloise at the Museum is on view through October 9 and included in regular museum admission. While you're there, be sure to check out the other kid-friendly fun at the DiMenna Children's History Museum.
All photos by the author.