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Insects and amphibians "invade" the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers this summer
Nancy Winslow Parker (American, born 1930), What twinkled its light in the twilight sky? A firefly, original illustration for Bugs, 1987. Colored pencil, crayon, watercolor, and ink. Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers. Gift of the artist. Photo: Peter Jacobs.
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ.- Flying, jumping, crawling animals usually are not welcome inside an art museum. Unless, of course, they are pictures by an artist who invites you to look closely. “Bugs & Frogs & Toads! Oh My! Original Children’s Book Illustrations by Nancy Winslow Parker,” which opened at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers on July 5, does just that. The exhibition features more than 40 of Parker’s original drawings for the books “Bugs” (1987) and “Frogs, Toads, Lizards, and Salamanders” (1990). Some drawings are playful and humorous; others are scientifically instructive – but all of them pique the viewer’s interest about some of the most diverse species on our planet. On view through June 21, 2015, the works are featured in the Duvoisin Gallery, which is dedicated to the Zimmerli’s extensive collection of original artwork for children’s books.

“These drawings are a delightful introduction to a variety of insects and amphibians that exist in the natural world around us,” notes Marilyn Symmes, the museum’s Director of the Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts and Curator of Prints and Drawings. “Parker’s combination of storytelling and science informs us all – from beginning readers to nature enthusiasts of all ages – of the fragile ecological coexistence among all creatures great and small.”

Nancy Winslow Parker has been a successful children’s book illustrator and author since 1974. She coauthored “Bugs” and “Frogs, Toads, Lizards, and Salamanders” with Joan Richards Wright. In the books, a detailed illustration and amusing couplet introduce each creature, followed by an accurate scientific rendition and fascinating facts. Both publications include a cast of characters who encounter cicadas and centipedes, African Platannas and Eastern Spadefoot Toads, but never appear alarmed, indicating that our tiny neighbors in the wild should be investigated, not feared – or squashed. Parker, who spent a considerable amount of time researching her natural history subjects and how they fit into our world, still declares, “Bugs are important!”

Parker includes what may be many people’s favorite insect. “What twinkled its light in the twilight sky? A firefly.” The verse accompanies the image of two girls engaged in the popular summer activity of trying to catch lightning bugs (another acceptable name). While the habitats (fields, woods, backyards) and mating rituals (blinking) may not surprise readers, who knew that firefly larvae sometimes eat worms and snails? Parker also depicts perhaps our greatest summer enemy. “What left a bump when it bit Rita? A mosquito.” With some 2,500 species, they are found just about everywhere in the world.

“Ben hardly knew what to do when a Texas Toad fell out of his shoe.” And neither does his cat, which extends a paw to investigate the seemingly dancing frog. Learn about its paratoid gland, tubercles, and venter – and how a toad’s yawn begins the process of shedding its skin. Parker’s captivating illustration of the Western Skink resembles a snake with legs. Neutral in color, juveniles also have bright blue tails to detract attackers away from their vulnerable bodies. Though it may not be a widely known lizard, there are 600 species around the world, with 15 in the United States. The exhibition is full of fun facts like these, while revealing the skilled hand of the illustrator.

In the early 1970s, after working for two decades in sales and advertising in New York City, Nancy Winslow Parker decided to pursue a career as a writer and illustrator of children’s books. In 1974, she published her first book, “The Man with the Take-Apart Head.” Since then, Parker has produced fifty fiction and non-fiction books for children, most of them as author and illustrator. Ranking among the most successful are “Bugs” and “Frogs, Toads, Lizards, and Salamanders,” both published by Greenwillow Books, New York. Several of Parker’s books also have won awards: “Willy Bear” (1976) and “My Mom Travels a Lot” (1981) each received a Christopher Award; “Poofy Loves Company” (1980) was named an American Library Association Notable Book. Born, raised, and educated in Maplewood, New Jersey, Nancy Winslow Parker received her B.A. in Fine Arts from Mills College in California. She is a long-time resident of New York City and also spends time at the New Jersey Shore.

“Bugs & Frogs & Toads! Oh My! Original Children’s Illustrations by Nancy Winslow Parker” is open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

The exhibition was organized by Marilyn Symmes, Director of the Zimmerli’s Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts and Curator of Prints and Drawings, with Leeza Cinar, a Rutgers University undergraduate student assistant.





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