Arts

Only Dr. Seuss could create these travelling 'stuffed beasts'

Oh, the places this exhibition will go! For the first time, Dr. Seuss's complete Collection of Unorthodox Taxidermy is coming to Canada.

Oh, the places this exhibition will go! The Collection of Unorthodox Taxidermy is coming to Canada

The Flaming Herring. (Courtesy of the Art of Dr. Seuss)

What if Dr. Seuss ran the zoo?

Somehow or other, we think he could find, some beasts of a much more unusual kind. That's how he put it, after all, in his classic story If I Ran the Zoo. And besides, his 44 books more than prove it. Seuss drew Grinches and Sneetches with stars upon thars. But long before he landed his first best-seller, decades before Green Eggs and Ham or The Cat in the Hat, Theodor Seuss Geisel wasn't just writing about imaginary creatures — he was building them.

Dr. Seuss with a few of his original unorthodox taxidermy trophies, the Turtle-Necked Sea-Turtle and the Goo-Goo-Eyed Tasmanian Wolghast. (Courtesy of the Art of Dr. Seuss)

A travelling exhibition of Seuss sculptures, If I Ran the Zoo arrives at Toronto's Liss Gallery December 3. Its centrepiece is "The Collection of Unorthodox Taxidermy," 17 stuffed beasts that Seuss conceived in the '30s.

You'll find things you've never heard of, even in a Seuss story, and the originals were truly taxidermy — even if you could never actually hunt a Green-Lidded Fawn, much less with a "Skeegle-mobile."

The Powerless Puffer is the final Dr. Seuss sculpture to be reproduced for the Collection of Unorthodox Taxidermy. (Courtesy of the Art of Dr. Seuss)

His sculptures incorporated real beaks, real antlers, even real rabbit ears. Seuss's father was a zookeeper, and he'd mail his son relics — actual animal parts that he'd add to his home-made clay and papier-mâché creations.

Some items were special commissions, like the Gimlet Fish and Carbonic Walrus. In the mid '30s, Seuss was hired by Essomarine Oil, and he created an entire "Seuss Navy" for the project.  A collection of 3-D sea creatures, a.k.a. the "Marine Muggs," would have appeared at the company's booth during the National Motor Boat Show in New York City.

The Carbonic Walrus. (www.drseussart.com)

Others would have appeared in stores. In 1936, when Seuss's first storybook And to Think That I Saw it On Mulberry Street was published, he brought the trophies to bookshops.   

Mulberry Street Unicorn. (www.drseussart.com)

Still, the full collection was never shown to the public, and according to Jeff Schuffman, a rep for the Art of Dr. Seuss Collection, the originals are incredibly fragile. "He did not create them to stand the test of time," Schuffman tells CBC Arts. "We're very fortunate to have what we have."

The author died in 1991, and six years afterward, the project was launched at his widow's request. Since then, they've published "secret" artwork from the Seuss estate, releasing never-seen drawings and paintings, and in this case, sculptures.

The Blue Green Abelard. (www.drseussart.com)

Reproductions of "The Collection of Unorthodox Taxidermy" began in 1998. All these years later, they've completed the set, and the upcoming show at Liss Gallery marks the first time all 17 known pieces — albeit in reproduced form — will be displayed together in Canada. The exhibition reached several U.S. cities earlier this year.

"As far as I know, eight of the original [taxidermy pieces] are in the collection of the estate. Two of them are in private hands that we're aware of, and then there's a number of them where we honestly don't know where they are currently," says Schuffman. To re-create those mystery pieces, the project worked from photos and TV footage of the sculptures.

The Sea-Going Dilemma Fish. (Courtesy of the Art of Dr. Seuss)

Of the exhibition, Schuffman says: "It's just a great opportunity for people to come by and see an aspect of someone they've grown up with — that we've all grown up with — and I guarantee there will be something they've never seen before."

An Andlovian Grackler, for instance, or a Goo-Goo-Eyed Tasmanian Wolghast.

The Andulovian Grackler. (Courtesy of the Art of Dr. Seuss)

Dr. Seuss. If I Ran the Zoo. Dec. 3 to Jan. 2 at Liss Gallery, Toronto. www.lissgallery.com

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