He’s an icon of children’s literature, a British national treasure and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Now Winnie-the-Pooh is the subject of a must-see new exhibition at the V&A – the prestigious museum’s first show aimed at younger families.
Featuring original drawings spanning back more than 90 years and 230 rare artifacts, it tells the story behind the stories of this treasured teddy and his pals – Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Owl, Roo and Kanga.
The partnership of writer A.A. Milne and illustrator E.H. Shepard was a match made in heaven, with the first book – the poetry collection When We Were Very Young – selling 44,000 copies within three months of release in 1924, despite an initial print run of 5,000.
Three more books followed – Winnie-the-Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner and another poetry collection, Now We Are Six – and Winnie was firmly established as a captivating and cuddly giant of children’s literature.
The duo’s creative chemistry coupled with observing their own children at play was what sprinkled stardust over these gentle tales of friendship and imagination.
Christopher Robin was Milne’s son and Winnie was his toy, bought from Harrods by his mother Daphne for his first birthday in 1921 and named after a bear at London Zoo.
The real life inspiration for the Hundred Acre Wood was the Ashdown Forest in Sussex, near where the Milnes had a house.
Christopher’s nanny would explore the woods with the boy and some of his favourite trees were sketched by Shepard to become the homes of the characters.
Baby Bookworm’s granny grew up in that very area and I found out this week that the nanny lived in her childhood home after she married. What a small world.
Normally when I go to a museum or gallery, I keep my fingers crossed that Baby Bookworm will fancy a nap so I can take a proper look.
But when he promptly fell asleep on arrival at Monday’s press preview I was soon willing him to wake up and explore the delightful world that has been created by the curators and designers.
This multi-sensory exhibition is both fascinating and fun in equal measure, and caters to all ages.
It mixes rare archive material like sketches, photos and letters with memorabilia like the Queen’s childhood tea set from 1928 (on loan from Her Majesty herself).
Special highlights are Shepard’s first sketch of Christopher’s teddy (although the final Winnie owes more to his own son’s Steiff bear, Growler), along with the pencil sketch and the pen and ink drawing of the ‘Poohsticks’ drawing, both on loan from international collectors.
There are also recreations of scenes from Winnie’s world to explore in an immersive area, like Poohsticks Bridge, Eeyore’s house and the Bee Tree.
Once he came round, Baby Bookworm had a great time charging around without any worries of being unwelcome. When he loudly crashed a BBC London News report, they promptly recruited him for some filming for that night’s show.
He especially loved the hidden slide (we had multiple goes together, much to the mirth of the other journalists in attendance) and was mesmerised by a little room where the story of ‘Winnie the Pooh and Some Bees’ is read aloud, the words projected in white into a black ceiling.
Children can also enjoy the listening posts hidden within trees or sit and create their own drawings at a picnic table within the wood.
The whole thing was just magic and catered perfectly to every generation of Pooh Bear fans – of which there are many.
We headed home with a couple of cloth bound special editions of Winnie stories, ready to share his adventures with yet another young fan.
Winnie the Pooh: Exploring a Classic is at V&A Museum in London from 9 December 2017 to 8 April 2018. Tickets £8, concessions available. Find out more at vam.ac.uk/winniethepooh
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