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The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art Presents The Golden Age to the Modern Era: The Michael and Esther Droller Collection

Amherst, MA – When Michael Droller received a framed reproduction of a Maxfield Parrish painting as a graduation present from medical school, it ignited a passion for illustration—a passion that has long sustained him outside a career in medicine. It led Michael and his wife Esther to amass an enviable collection of picture book art rich in history and artistic achievement. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is pleased to bring this private collection to light in the exhibition The Golden Age to the Modern Era: The Michael and Esther Droller Collection, on view from November 6, 2016 through January 29, 2017. Curated by H. Nichols B. Clark, The Carle’s founding director and chief curator emeritus, the exhibition features art by both legendary names and contemporary geniuses from the world of children’s literature. 

On view are artists from the Golden Age of Illustration—a period of extraordinary creative ferment from 1875 to World War I—such as Randolph Caldecott, Walter Crane, and Kate Greenaway, as well as later but accomplished practitioners Frank Adams, L. Leslie Brooke, and W. Heath Robinson. The Drollers’ modern holdings, spanning the last quarter of the 20th century, comprise such luminaries as Barbra Cooney, Alice and Martin Provensen, and Maurice Sendak. Thematic subjects bridge both epochs, allowing for artistic comparisons between Arthur Rackham’s and Jerry Pinkney’s versions of Aesop’s Fables to Charles Robinson’s and Michael Hague’s interpretations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

“Here at The Carle, we are fortunate to befriend many picture-book art collectors—individuals and couples of great passion and determination,” says Alix Kennedy, Executive Director. “This exhibition represents only a fraction of the books and illustrations Michael and Esther Droller have collected over more than 40 years.”

The Beginning of a Collection:

It was while in residency in California that Michael Droller learned the Parrish picture he was gifted at his medical school graduation was from Eugene Field’s Poems of Childhood (1904). He began to search everywhere for the book; Esther, not yet his wife at the time, found it at a flea market. “Through this search,” says Droller, “I was introduced to the world of children’s books from what is known as the Golden Age of Illustration. Unknowingly, Esther’s purchase started me on a hobby that I would pursue obsessively in the years to come. This path would provide me with priceless experiences and enjoyment far beyond my work in medicine.”

Together the Drollers discovered the imaginative art of others from the Golden Age, highlighted by the illustrations of Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac in their portrayals of fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and folk legends. During a research fellowship to Stockholm, Droller encountered the equally magical illustrations of John Bauer and Gustaf Tenggren. “What struck me,” he said, “was that these paintings not only added a sense of fantasy and mystery to the stories they portrayed, but actually seemed to extend the imaginative thoughts, concepts, and atmosphere created by the texts. The books themselves were veritable works of art….”

In addition to collecting antiquarian children’s books, Michael and Esther also began acquiring original art by the illustrators. A busy academic physician, Droller devoted increasing attention to the pursuit of their collection. He attended book shows, library fairs, and met with numerous dealers in search of first editions; he scoured thrift shops, flea markets, and later the Internet for the original illustrations. When he traveled for medical conferences, he explored used bookstores in various cities—often returning with a suitcase full of new items for the collection.

“Although, my primary attention focused on my medical work, I also developed a routine in which I was able to pursue my children’s book activities,” says Droller. “Ironically, as my emotions were drawing me increasingly towards the children’s book world, I began to perceive that this developing passion was actually providing a welcome distraction from the challenges and sometime stresses I experienced in my everyday academic and clinical activities. My hobby seemed to become a valuable counterpoint to and to reinvigorate me in my professional activities, each in effect enhancing my appreciation and enjoyment of the other.”

Collecting Leads to Friendships

Michael Droller didn’t anticipate the extent to which his collection would soon expand. In the 1980s he chanced upon a children’s bookshop to find Arnold Lobel reading stories from the latest book in his Frog and Toad series. He described how he created his characters; then he signed and sketched in the books. Droller was entranced by the idea of a contemporary children’s book artist actually personalizing his books. Another time, he met Chris Van Allsburg at a signing and was able to talk to him at length about his concept and artwork for his new book, Jumanji.

“I felt a wonderful sense of satisfaction not only in having met another gifted and creative artist, but also in acquiring this contemporary children’s book with its imaginative illustrations, now personalized by the artist with an inscription and original sketch, and made special because of this.”

The Drollers’ focus shifted from an initial interest in antiquarian children’s books and art to incorporating an appreciation for contemporary children’s book illustrations. “I was able to expand my collection in new directions and extend my interactions beyond a simple book signing and brief conversations,” Droller said. In addition to their collection, Michael and Esther developed special friendships with many of the artists whose work they collect, including Maurice Sendak, Jan Brett, Etienne Delessert, and Lisbeth Zwerger. In fact, the Drollers’ children served as models for two of Brett’s books.

“This personal involvement superseded the abstract process of simply seeking and acquiring objects for a collection. It became a profound privilege to interact on a personal level with these highly creative individuals and allowed me to enter the imagination of the artists,” Droller said.

Of special interest in the Exhibition:

Frank Adams (British, 1871-1944)

“Said the Pye-man to Simon Show me now your penny”
The Story of Simple Simon [Dodge Publishing Company, ca. early 1900s]
Ink and gouache on illustration board

Maginel Wright Enright Barney (American, 1881-1966)

“Pied Piper”
Pen and ink with coloring on paper

Jan Brett (American, b. 1949)

“How pleased Goldilocks was . . . ”
Goldilocks and the Three Bears [Dodd, Mead & Company, 1987]
Watercolor on paper

Randolph Caldecott (British, 1846-1886)

“Babes with Huntsman”
Babes in the Woods, Toy Book Series [Routledge, 1879]
Pen and ink on paper

Barbara Cooney (American, 1917-2000)

“And he carved a new yoke”
Oxcart Man by Donald Hall [The Viking Press, 1979]
Acrylic on paper

Walter Crane (British, 1845-1915)

“Finding the Babes”
Babes in the Woods, Toy Book Series [Routledge, n. d.]
Pen and ink on illustration board

Charles James Folkard (British, 1878-1963)

“Pinocchio’s Nose Growing”
Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi (Carlo Lorenzini) [Dutton, 1911]
Ink and watercolor on paper

Kate Greenaway (British, 1846-1901)

“Deaf Martha”
Little Ann and Other Poems by Ann and Jane Taylor [George Routledge & Sons, ca. 1883]
Watercolor and ink on paper

Arthur Rackham (British, 1867-1939)

“Gnome [Rackham caricature], Crow, Rabbit, and Boy in Horse-Drawn Wagon”  [unpublished]
Watercolor and ink on paper

Maurice Bernard Sendak (American, 1928-2012)

“One took off his shoes, one his stockings” from “The Poor Miller’s Boy and the Little Cat,” 1973, The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm, translated by Lore Segal [Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1973]
Lithograph on paper, Ed. 85/125 


Gallery Talk: A Passion for Collecting

November 6, 2016
1:00 pm
Free with Museum Admission

Collector Michael Droller joins Guest Curator Nick Clark for a gallery talk on The Golden Age to the Modern Era: The Michael and Esther Droller Collection. Dr. Droller will share insights and inspirations of building a world-class illustration collection over the past 40 years, and reflect on the many artist friendships he formed along the way.


The mission of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, a non-profit organization in Amherst, MA, is to inspire a love of art and reading through picture books. The only full-scale museum of its kind in the United States, The Carle collects, preserves, presents, and celebrates picture books and picture book illustrations from around the world. In addition to underscoring the cultural, historical, and artistic significance of picture books and their art form, The Carle offers educational programs that provide a foundation for arts integration and literacy.

Eric Carle and his wife, the late Barbara Carle, co-founded the Museum in November 2002. Carle is the renowned author and illustrator of more than 70 books, including the 1969 classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Since opening, the 40,000-square foot facility has served more than half a million visitors, including 30,000 schoolchildren. The Carle houses more than 13,000 objects, including 6,600 permanent collection illustrations. The Carle has three art galleries, an art studio, a theater, picture book and scholarly libraries, and educational programs for families, scholars, educators, and schoolchildren. Educational offerings include professional training for educators around the country and Master’s degree programs in children’s literature with Simmons College. Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 12 noon to 5 p.m. Open Mondays in July and August and during MA school vacation weeks. Admission is $9 for adults, $6 for children under 18, and $22.50 for a family of four. For further information and directions, call (413) 559-6300 or visit the Museum’s website at www.carlemuseum.org.

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