Story time at Herron 

Bill Peet Storybook Menagerie
Herron School of Art & Design
Through Jan. 6

In my weekly travels around town to view art for these pages, I often have some or all of my children along out of necessity. But Herron’s special exhibition of the life and times of Bill Peet (1915-2002), an author, illustrator, filmmaker and, of course, Herron alumnus, gave us the rare opportunity to make a family outing out of mom’s work.

While a 3-year-old isn’t quite old enough to appreciate the intricacies of Peet’s contributions to Walt Disney, for whom he worked for 27 years illustrating countless Disney classic animated films such as Fantasia and Alice in Wonderland — single-handedly creating the storyboards for 101 Dalmatians and Sword in the Stone — I have yet to meet a child (or adult) who doesn’t like to be read to.

Upon entering the gallery, the sound of storytelling lifted through the cavernous space; we soon found our way there, just in time to hear the storyteller, a young man with spiked hair and a gleaming nose ring, describe Ella’s escape from the butt of a farmer’s gun. A vain lion, a lonely caboose, displaced raccoons, misunderstood gnats, a two-headed troll: These are just a few of Peet’s oddball characters who face loneliness and hardship on their way to learn lessons such as humility and the benefits of helpfulness. One can’t help but wonder if Peet’s characters are extensions of himself — misunderstood and sometimes misguided, but always finding gold at the end of the rainbow.

The exhibition includes ample examples of Peet’s illustration work, including sample storyboards and storybook sketches, with excerpts from his autobiography recalling happy as well as difficult times (his father, an alcoholic, committed suicide when Peet was a child). Peet had a formidable talent; he could fight with Disney without retribution. While he finally realized some creative latitude at Disney, it was hard-won; and his success there no doubt gave him the confidence to take on his lifelong ambition to illustrate children’s books. He went on to illustrate — and often write — 34 children’s books, including The Caboose Who Got Loose, Chester The Worldly Pig, Fly Homer Fly and The Luckiest One of All.

To learn more about Peet and his contributions to the collective imagination of children young and old, visit The Bill Peet Storybook Menagerie through Jan. 6, 2008, at Herron Galleries at Herron School of Art & Design, 735 W. New York St., IUPUI. Call 317-278-9477 or visit for more information. Story time in the gallery takes place at 11 a.m., on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday through Jan. 5 (closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day). Free admission.

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