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Step Into the Pages of ‘Goodnight Moon’ With This Enchanting Exhibition

On view at Fort Makers in NYC, the show features 14 artists’ reimagined interpretations of objects from the beloved children’s book

Fourteen contemporary artists collaborated to create a real-life version of the 1947 picture book. (Joe Kramm / Fort Makers)
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New York City art studio Fort Makers has just the thing for literary lovers whose lives have been feeling a little chaotic lately: an immersive exhibition that lets visitors enter the room from the beloved children’s book Goodnight Moon.

As Vanessa Willoughby reports for Literary Hub, Fort Makers invited artists to craft furniture and other objects inspired by the picture book, then combined them to create the group show “Goodnight House.”

“We asked each artist to further rekindle their childlike understanding of the world around them, and create objects uninhibited by the horrors of adulthood,” says Fort Makers co-founder Noah Spencer in a statement. “What better remedy than comfort and play?”

Written by prolific children’s author Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd, Goodnight Moon tells the simple, rhyming story of a young bunny saying goodnight to the objects and creatures in his “great green room,” from “two little kittens / And a pair of mittens” to “a little toy house / And a young mouse.” Though the text wasn’t an immediate success upon its publication in 1947, it gained traction in the 1950s and ’60s, selling nearly 100,000 copies annually by 1972.

Bed from 'Goodnight Moon' as recreated for exhibition
The artists' works recreate versions of the objects in Clement Hurd's classic illustrations. (Joe Kramm / Fort Makers)

“Goodnight House” features newly commissioned work by 14 artists, according to Valentina Di Liscia of Hyperallergic. The art reflects the bright colors and homey feel of Hurd’s illustrations while reimagining the scenes in a contemporary way.

Among the works featured are paintings by Marcel Alcalá in frames by Nick DeMarco; a cloud-shaped table by Adam Frezza and Terri Chiao; and wax candles by Janie Korn that replicate images from the book, including “the old lady whispering hush.” Textile artist Liz Collins recreated the fireplace that appears at the center of several of the book’s illustrations as a handwoven, three-dimensional tapestry.

As Amy Crawford reported for Smithsonian magazine in 2017, Brown helped kick off a new movement in children’s literature. In contrast to the tradition of fantastical fairy tales, the author—profiled in Amy Gary’s 2017 biography In the Great Green Room—wrote stories for children based on simple, everyday sights and sounds. Among her many other stories are The Runaway Bunny (also illustrated by Hurd), Big Red Barn, Home for a Bunny and The Color Kittens. Dozens more of her stories were published posthumously after her sudden death in 1952.

As Fort Makers cofounder and creative director Nana Spears recounts in the statement, when Goodnight Moon first appeared, the New York Public Library’s chief children’s librarian, Anne Carroll Moore, hated the book. The library refused to carry it for 25 years.

“Despite the librarian’s opposition to a progressive wave of children’s literature, and even though the book had poor sales in its first year, Goodnight Moon eventually gained universal affection and became one of the most famous children’s books of all time,” says Spears. “While subtly subversive, Goodnight Moon allows us to see through the eyes of a child, and instills in us essential tools for innovation. That’s something worth celebrating.”

Detail of ceramic mantlepiece clock by Keith Simpson and <em>Goodnight Moon</em>​ character-inspired candles by Janie Korn
Detail of ceramic mantlepiece clock by Keith Simpson and Goodnight Moon​ character-inspired candles by Janie Korn (Joe Kramm / Fort Makers)

Like many people who have raised—or been—children in the decades since Goodnight Moon’s publication, the artists involved in the exhibition have their own emotional connections to the book.

“I think the book, like a person’s baby blanket, is something I always wanted near me,” Spears tells Metropolis magazine’s Leilah Stone.

Keith Simpson, who created a blue ceramic clock that sits over the fireplace, says his own 1-year-old son is fascinated by the book.

“I was really drawn to the clock and the urns that bookend it. It’s such a strange and proper object,” the artist tells Metropolis. “The illustrations are not like diagrams—all of the items in the scene seem to wiggle between their separate illustrations. I love the idea of objects that resist definition in the way this clock does.”

Goodnight Moon has sold more than 48 million copies, been translated into at least a dozen languages and inspired many parodies. Just last year, Kimberly Arcand, a visualization scientist for NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, published Goodnight Exomoon, a toddler’s introduction to astrophysics.

For those interested in seeing the three-dimensional version of the book in person, “Goodnight House” is on view, by appointment only, at 38 Orchard Street in Manhattan through May 27.

About Livia Gershon
Livia Gershon

Livia Gershon is a freelance journalist based in New Hampshire. She has written for JSTOR Daily, the Daily Beast, the Boston Globe, HuffPost, and Vice, among others.

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