Schenectady

Many of Jan Brett’s vibrant illustrations on view at Albany Institute

Jan Brett, "Arctic Fox’s nose was turning blue," 2020. Illustration for "Cozy" by Jan Brett. Watercolor on paper. Collection of the artist.
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Jan Brett, "Arctic Fox’s nose was turning blue," 2020Illustration for "Cozy" by Jan BrettWatercolor on paperCollection of the artist.

ALBANY Jan Brett has been capturing the imagination of children and parents alike for the better part of four decades with intricately detailed illustrations and heartwarming narratives.

Those tales come to life in “Jan Brett: Stories Near and Far,” on view at the Albany Institute of History & Art. Featuring 120 of Brett’s original illustrations, from 22 of her books, the exhibit is a wonderful way to revisit some old favorites and discover new ones.

Brett, who lives in Massachusetts, began her illustration career in the 1970s and her art appeared in books written by other authors. The 1981 release of “Fritz and the Beautiful Horses” marked the first book she both wrote and illustrated and since then, she’s mainly written and illustrated her books.

Most of her stories reflect the wildlife and cultures she’s experienced while traveling with her husband, Joseph Hearne, a bassist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

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That includes depictions of Alaskan muskox, which are featured in one of her latest books, “Cozy.” Inspired by her daughter, Brett traveled to an animal sanctuary in Palmer, Alaska to see the furry creatures and learn more about them. She eventually crafted a story that not only features Cozy, a musk ox with a heavy but soft coat of shaggy fur, but also a host of other Arctic animals.

In one stunning watercolor and pencil illustration featured in the exhibit, Brett shows Cozy sheltering a snowshoe hare, a fox and other creatures, underneath his fur, which hangs down to the snow-covered ground. Behind them is a vibrant sky filled with the greens and blues of the Northern Lights.

Brett takes viewers even farther away with illustrations from “Hedgie Blasts Off!” a charming book that follows a tiny hedgehog who has become one of Brett’s most beloved characters. Hedgie is on the clean-up crew at Star Lab but he dreams of becoming an astronaut. When word arrives that a geyser on planet Mikkop is fading, he gets his chance to head into space.

Brett’s imagination shines in an illustration of labrador dogs wearing lab coats, as they’re bustling around working on a rocket. In another, Hedgie is floating just above the geyser, with a red space suit covering his torso, and rockets zipping around behind him. Above the illustrations is a cutout of Hedgie in his space suit.

The exhibit, which was organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum, also features some of Brett’s retellings of classic stories like Noah’s Ark and “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

In one of several Noah’s Ark illustrations on view, Brett depicts lions and zebras napping with Noah’s granddaughter curled against the head of a large lion. Framing the illustration are depictions of two puffins and two possums, showing what other creatures on the boat are doing. It’s a technique Brett uses in many of her stories to the delight of young readers.

Brett also has a knack for capturing the chill and the cheer of wintery holiday scenes and there are plenty of those on view. There are festive and impressively detailed scenes from “The Nutcracker,” as well as a few illustrations from Brett’s “The Animals’ Santa,” featuring a snowy owl donning a red cap and basket full of treats and toys hung across its side.

Nearby is a vivid illustration from the book “Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve?” depicting a cozy nordic scene with a log cabin home at the foot of snowy mountains, the night sky a piercing shade of blue. Trolls float around on the upper left and right edges and intricately patterned snowflakes dot the foreground.

“Jan Brett: Stories Near and Far” is a joy to visit whether or not one has read Brett’s work, and feels timely as the colder months approach.

The exhibit will be on view through Dec. 31. For more information visit albanyinstitute.org.

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Categories: Art, Life and Arts, Life and Arts

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