ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
Walter Wick: Hidden Wonders!
The whimsical world of Walter Wick has fascinated people of all ages since 1991, when his first children’s book series I SPY found its way onto the bookshelves of millions of American households. The success of Wick’s books has established him as one of the most celebrated photographic illustrators of all time. A Hartford native, Wick began his artistic career as a landscape photographer before becoming enamored with the technical aspects of studio photography. Wick aspired to master studio techniques, but also to represent such concepts as the perception of space and time in photographs, and experimented with mirrors, time exposures, photo composites, and other tricks to do so. This manipulation of processes and perception has led to a prolific career that has now, over 30 years after the release of I SPY: A Book of Picture Riddles, resulted in the publication of more than 26 children’s books.
In the past 16 years, the New Britain Museum of American Art has celebrated Wick’s delightful imagery in several installations, including the highly acclaimed 2006 exhibition Walter Wick: Games, Gizmos, and Toys in the Attic, which traveled to 15 additional museums across the United States. In 2015, through the generosity of Walter Wick and Linda Cheverton Wick, the NBMAA was gifted a collection of 84 of Wick’s masterful photographs. The appeal of Wick’s photographs, books, and installations has continued to draw admirers of all ages, from across Connecticut and around the world.
In March of 2023, the NBMAA is thrilled to launch the largest survey of Wick’s work to date. Titled after his recent book, Walter Wick: Hidden Wonders! will span 50 years of innovation, wonder, and imagination. Tracing the span of Wick’s career, the exhibition is organized by themes that have long fascinated Wick, including Miniature Worlds; Floor Games; Craft-Built Worlds; Optical Illusions; I Spy Games; Puzzle Challenges, Wonders of Science; Connecticut Woods; and Curiosity Shop. The exhibition pairs beloved images, including over 15 never-before-seen works, with numerous three-dimensional models upon which his photographs are based. Celebrating five decades of creativity, as well as Wick’s indelible role in the development of photographic illustration, this exhibition is a must-see for art lovers of any age.
The NBMAA has a full roster of adult and family-friendly programs scheduled for the spring and summer seasons. Offerings include exciting April Vacation week programs, Hidden Wonders Summer Camp, nightlife, and an extensive menu of studio art classes for adults and children. More details about each of these programs will be added soon.
Members Opening Reception
Thursday, March 30, 5:30 p.m.
Miniature Worlds Kids Workshop with Jasmine Ahern
Sunday, April 2, 12-2 p.m.
Artist Talk for Families by Walter Wick
Sunday, April 2, 3 p.m.
Artist Talk | Walter Wick
Thursday, April 6, 6 p.m.
First Friday | Meet and Mingle with Walter Wick
Friday, April 7, 6 pm.
Tuesday, April 11, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
April Vacation Week | Craft Built
Tuesday, April 11, 1-3 p.m. – Members Only
Thursday, April 13, 1-3 p.m.
Distinguished Lecture: Catharine M. Rogers Lecture Series Fund | Stephanie Plunkett
Sunday, April 16, 2 p.m.
Children’s Book Reading and Illustration Workshop with Aspenne’s Library
Sunday, May 21, 12-2 p.m.
I Spy Classics: Can you See More? Studio Activity with Jasmine Ahern
Sunday, June 4, 12-2 p.m.
Hidden Wonders Summer Camp
Week 1 | Out of this World
Week 2 | Fairytale Fun
Week 3 | Puzzle Challenge
Week 4 | Found Objects
Self-Guided Group Tour Information
Click here to learn more about Self-Guided Tour options for Walter Wick: Hidden Wonders!
Q&A with Walter Wick
Q. In 2006, the NBMAA was honored to present Walter Wick: Games, Gizmos, and Toys in the Attic, which went on to travel the nation and received enormous acclaim. Now, 17 years later, you’re returning to the NBMAA with Hidden Wonders!—an even larger exhibition spanning the arc of your career. What should visitors expect to see that might be familiar, or new? What discoveries do you hope they make, and what ideas do you hope they come away with?
The core biographical work will remain, as will many classic I Spy and Can You See What I See? images, but there has been significant additions to the exhibit over the years, including 3D models and photographs not seen in the first exhibit—and 18 new works yet to be exhibited anywhere. I hope there will be a lot of rediscovery for visitors who grew up with my books, not just for the nostalgic appeal, but to see how the work transforms from the printed page to a large-scale immersive art experience in a museum setting.
Q. How has your audience changed or grown since your 2006 show?
I know most kids are on devices now (as we all are), and that must certainly reduce the amount of time kids have for printed books like mine. However, I’m not a devotee of the latest trends. It’s been a long time since big box toy stores have been much use as a prop source for me because it’s just aisles and aisles of the latest movie franchise toys or some other proprietary brands. My first choice is vintage toys, ordinary craft materials, and found objects. I know world-building is popular now in computer games, but you’ll see world-building in my exhibit too. It just might be worlds made out of building blocks, cardboard, or kitchen utensils. I work from the premise that the best themes and concepts are those that remain relevant over generations.
Q. The NBMAA houses one of the largest Museum illustration collections in the United States, and within that, your works represent an especially unique facet, as rare examples of photo-illustration. Can you share some insight about this particular genre of illustration and how you came to it?
When I opened my photo studio in New York City in 1979, photography was becoming the preferred medium for what had traditionally been the domain of hand-painted illustration, especially for magazines, which was my area. The term “photoillustration” was mostly relegated to cut-and-paste photo collage and a small niche of photographers who liked to recreate famous paintings photographically. But for the most part, photographers were not to be confused with illustrators. No one would ever call Richard Avedon or Irving Penn an illustrator even though they too were doing magazine work. Thus, my byline on the cover of every I Spy book, is “photographs by Walter Wick,” following the photography tradition. However, children’s books have long been mostly the domain of hand-drawn illustration, and now that I’ve been in that world for 30 years, I’m much more comfortable with the term photo-illustrator. I’m a photographer because of how I make the images, but an illustrator because of the purpose they serve. Thanks to NBMAA’s decades-long initiative to collect and preserve illustration, we can all relax now and just call it art. And I for one am honored to be included in the NBMAA collection.
Q. On view from March 30-September 3, 2023, your exhibition takes place concurrent to two additional photography exhibitions—Ansel Adams and the Legacy of the American Landscape and Edward Burtynsky: Earth Observed. In your opinion, are there threads that connect your work to Adams’ and Burtynsky’s?
Ansel Adams was the archetype whom I and many of my fellow photography students aspired to emulate in college. You will see some of my early black and white landscape pictures in the exhibit. He might be horrified that I became a photo-illustrator making landscapes out of blocks and toys. But there is something of his legacy that has stuck with me, and I dare say a commonality that Edward Burtynsky shares as well: we all make images with maximum optical clarity. In other words, we all want everything sharp from edge to edge and front to back, and every square inch of the picture activated. Aside from that, Adams wants to convey the mind-boggling power of nature; Burtynsky, humankind’s mind-boggling transformation of nature. If you haven’t seen either of these artist’s work you’re in for a treat. I’ve begun to think my fascination is with the mind itself. My work often is about evoking the inner landscape of visual perception: as much about how we see as it is about what we see.
Q. What excites you most about your upcoming exhibition? What are you looking forward to next?
The arrival of young visitors leading the adults through the exhibit and not the other way around—as is usually the case in museums. This is one of the most exciting things we observed with the first iteration of the exhibit in 2006. But now those early visitors are adults! How will that change the dynamic? I’m excited about learning about that too.
Walter Wick: Hidden Wonders! is made possible by The Saunders Foundation and the Cheryl Chase and Stuart Bear Family Foundation.
Additional exhibition support generously provided by the Bailey Family Fund for Special Exhibitions, Marian and Russell Burke, and Stanley Black & Decker.