By Kerry Law
He may be over 90 years old but Winnie-the-Pooh, one of the world’s most famous children’s book characters, remains as popular as ever and is now the focus of a new exhibition at the V&A Museum.
Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a classic is a wonderfully playful exhibition with just the right balance to delight children and adults—during our visit, parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents were cooing over exhibits that clearly brought back many happy childhood memories. It features a comprehensive look at how A.A. Milne wrote and E.H. Shepard drew the world of Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore and friends, and how those books captured public imagination across the world over several decades.
The beginning explores A.A. Milne’s original inspiration (his own son Christopher Robin and his toys) and how he created the magical world of Pooh and his friends using humour and heart. Today, Pooh is considered quite the philosopher, with lines of Milne’s original stories providing endless quotes and life lessons for us all. The displays feature a 1929 recording of Milne reading Winnie-the-Pooh alongside memorabilia through the ages, including a Pooh tea set presented to the Queen when she was Princess Elizabeth in 1928.
Several walls are devoted to the original drawings by E.H. Shepard, many on display for the first time in nearly 40 years. The interpretation is fascinating and reveals a lot about Shepard’s process, including how he managed to capture character traits and atmosphere with subtle touches. It reminds you how these simple-looking pencil or pen and ink drawings can pack an evocative punch.
Children will love the middle section with its interactive set pieces—the most effective is a life-sized Poohsticks bridge complete with light-projected ‘river’. Honeypot cupboards, a slide, a cubby hole, Eeyore’s house and a dress-up area all allude to favourite storylines and keep little ones active and entertained. A couple of listening trees play audio versions of book extracts (listen out for the famous voices)—popular with all ages but great for kids who are a little too young to read the books themselves just yet.
The exhibition staging is lovely, with classic text suspended from the ceiling, floating along with cutouts of well-known Pooh moments—who wouldn’t recognise Pooh drifting skyward under a blue balloon?
To accompany the exhibition there are family events for all ages, including early years, running on Saturdays (performance workshops and storytelling) and Sundays (arts and crafts sessions) using Winnie-the-Pooh as inspiration. Check the website for dates and times.
Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a classic runs until Sunday 8 April 2018. Tickets are £8 for adults (concessions available) and children up to 11 years go FREE. Family ticket combinations are also available—check website for details, plus booking.
Visitor info: The V&A is open daily from 10am to 6pm (last ticketed entry to the exhibition is 4pm). Find it at Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2RL. For more details visit www.vam.ac.uk or call 020 7942 2000.
photo credit: Victoria and Albert Museum