February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Barbara Carle, Cofounder of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Has Died at 76

10th Anniversary (2)

Eric Carle (l.) applauds his wife, Barbara Carle, at the Carle Museum’s 10th anniversary celebration in 2012. Photo by Kristin Angel.

Barbara Carle, cofounder of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA, died September 7, 2015, in North Carolina, following a brief illness. She was 76.

Carle founded the museum with her husband, famed children’s book author and illustrator Eric Carle. Opening its doors in 2002, on Barbara Carle’s birthday, the Carle Museum was the first institution of its kind in the United States devoted to the celebration of national and international picture book art. The museum acquires and exhibits art, and also travels its exhibitions. It features three art galleries, an art studio, a theater, educational programs (including professional training for educators), and more than 13,000 objects.

Carle (née Barbara Ann Morrison) was born in 1938 in Statesville, NC. As an adult, she moved to New York City, sharing an apartment with her sister Pat and working as a Montessori teacher in an outpatient clinic and as an adoption caseworker at the New York Foundling Hospital.

Later, when she was employed at the Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she met her future husband, Eric Carle. The two married in 1973 and moved to western Massachusetts. Barbara Carle earned her M.Ed in special education from the University of Massachusetts and established Side by Side, a local preschool that helped integrate children with special needs into mainstream classrooms.

The Carles lived for many years in Northampton, MA, where Eric’s studio was located. The couple traveled frequently to Japan in the 1980s and 1990s and visited the country’s picture book museums. When they realized that the United States had no similar institutions, they were surprised—and inspired to establish a way to instill an appreciation for the beauty of picture book art in all users, adult and children alike.

As her husband gained greater fame with his now iconic picture books, Barbara Carle became convinced that they should use their many resources to enrich the lives of others. “Eric always says that it was Bobbie’s idea to ‘give back,’” says Alexandra Kennedy, the Carle Museum’s executive director. “She has been committed to the arts and the welfare of children all her life—so picture books, and the Carle, became a fitting legacy.”

Barbara Carle took a pivotal role in the museum, serving as its first board chair. “Bobbie had a gentle Southern voice and manner and a strong, clear vision for the museum she and Eric Carle created together,” says children’s book expert Leonard Marcus. “I felt so honored when she asked me to be one of the museum’s founding trustees. As the conversation widened about what the Carle might and should become, Bobbie was always there to guide us.”

The Carle Museum has come to occupy a significant place in the kid lit world. Past exhibitions have included the artwork of Maurice Sendak, Antonio Frasconi, and Tomie dePaola. The Carle Honors, an annual fund-raising gala, benefit, and auction, celebrates individuals and organizations that have made contributions in the field of picture book art, such as Chris Van Allsburg and Lane

“Bobbie was such an inspiration to the Carle staff,” says Kennedy. “She was passionate about our work, and a champion in every way. We’ve gotten hundreds of messages today—from friends and members as well as from many Museum guests who never met her—saying how much her spirit will live on at the Carle.”

Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar (mdar@mediasourceinc.com) is Assistant Managing Editor for Library Journal and School Library Journal and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.

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  1. Most people will never know what it takes to be a professional author and/or illustrator. In addition to talent, art skills, a creative mind, the ability to tell a story, short deadlines, long hours, personal sacrifices, successes and failures – it takes support. The support of loved ones, especially your wife or partner, may just be the most important factor in “the big picture” of a creator’s life.. A reassuring word, an affirmative nod, a sounding board for ideas, your best and worst critic, your inspiration and motivation. While we garner the recognition and praise – we never forget that person who is with us through every part of every project during our careers. I’m sure Mr. Carle is comforted by the knowledge that, in addition to her many successes in her own career, his wife, Barbara, was his biggest supporter and has ensured that his work and the work of authors and illustrators worldwide, will continue to have a positive effect on all our lives and a welcome home, always, at The Carle.