In 1925, A.A. Milne wrote a short story inspired by his son and stuffed animals about a boy named Christopher Robin and his toy bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, who tries to steal honey from bees by disguising himself as a rain cloud. Accompanied by the pencil sketches of E.H. Shepard, the story became an instant classic, spawning four books that have now sold more than 50 million copies. “I’m embarrassed if we’re ever out of Pooh,” says Justin Colussy-Estes, manager at Decatur children’s bookstore Little Shop of Stories. “It’s often given as a gift because someone treasured Pooh as a child and is looking to share that experience.”
London’s Victoria and Albert Museum has tapped into that nostalgia with an interactive exhibition of original sketches, ephemera, and merchandise from the Hundred Acre Wood. The High, the first museum to bring the 200-plus–artifact Exploring a Classic across the pond, is hosting the exhibit as part of its children’s literature series, which has spotlighted authors Mo Willems, Eric Carle, and Ashley Bryan during the past four years.
The exhibit will be at the High Museum June 3 through September 2.
All About Pooh
- Winnie-the-Pooh was originally illustrated in black and white, but Shepard added color to the images in the 1960s and ’70s.
- The oldest merchandise on display are Teddy bears from the early 1900s that may have been a model for Shepard’s drawings.
- The pencil sketches often show Shepard working out an idea of growing up, such as a 1928 drawing from The House at Pooh Corner of Christopher Robin peeking over the edge of a bridge while Pooh remains at foot-level.
- From Pooh-themed Vans sneakers to sake cups, Pooh merchandise—which existed since the first book—exploded after Disney acquired the rights in 1961.
- Pooh’s home, the Hundred Acre Wood, was based off England’s Ashdown Forest, which Milne explored with the real Christopher Robin and his toys. Shepard based his sketches off the forest.
- Running concurrently with the exhibition is a musical, Winnie-the-Pooh, at the Alliance Theatre next door, the third collaboration between the theater and the museum in the children’s literature series.
- Pooh is considered a philosopher, and the books are often graduation gifts, says Colussy-Estes. “People see Pooh as a totem for that transition from childhood to adulthood. Like a Teddy bear kids take to college, the books and characters are lifelong companions.”
This story appears in our June 2018 issue.