Judith Schrut celebrates all things bear at the V&A’s new Winnie-the-Pooh exhibition.
Is it my imagination or have you noticed it too? Could this be the era of The Bear? First came last year’s astonishing baseball World Series victory by the Chicago Cubs. A few months back China proudly welcomed a record number of baby pandas into the world, an incredible 42 including 5 sets of twins, thus removing the giant panda from endangered animals lists. Then, the release of two major bear movies, Paddington 2 and Goodbye Christopher Robin, and the 50th anniversary since grizzly Gentle Ben first starred on US television. And, just the other day, a tall dark handsome stranger with a prominent American accent passed me on a London street and loudly greeted, ‘Go Bears!’ (although that may have had more to do with the luminous UC Berkeley alumni hoodie I was wearing at the time).
Now, the wonderful Victoria & Albert Museum bares all with its big, new, clever exhibition, Winnie-the-Pooh: Discovering a Classic.
But you don’t have to be a child, a bear or even an American to enjoy this show, opening on 9 December 2017.
Winnie-the-Pooh, the world’s most famous and best-loved bear, first appeared in A.A. Milne’s 1926 children’s story book, enchantingly illustrated by E.H. Shepard. Pooh was named after a teddy bear owned by the Milne’s young son Christopher Robin. Since then, Pooh’s become the world’s favourite bear, with his books selling millions worldwide, never out of print and translated into almost every language.
The V&A’s multi-sensory, playful show takes you through the magical and joyful world of Pooh and best friends Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Kanga and Roo, from its literary beginnings to the present through fashion, toys, illustrations, cartoons, photographs and film. I was invited to preview the show with family members both young and young-at-heart. We then voted on the best bits:
- Illustrator Shephard’s fabulous ink and pencil drawings including the original map of the Hundred Acre Wood;
- Scenes from favourite stories brought to life, so you could play on Poohsticks Bridge, search for honey in the Bee Tree and crawl around Eeyore’s House;
- Story corners, child-sized doors, a secret slide, dress up spaces and hiding holes;
- Toys and memorabilia including a Pooh Cookbook, fuzzy felt game, tennis shoes, Lego, nursery tea set presented to then toddler Princess Elizabeth in 1928, and several cute teddies;
- The lovely gift shop where one of us couldn’t resist buying two furry Tiggers.
You might be wondering why a few stories about a small bear and his animal friends have had such a deep and lasting effect on generations of children around the world. V&A Director Tristram Hunt summed that up best in his opening talk— Winnie-the-Pooh “captures the joy and delight of a small child doing what he likes to do best in the world: Nothing.”
So go and enjoy this show, or as Pooh reminds us: “You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”
Winnie-the-Pooh, Exploring a Classic runs from 9 December 2017 to 8 April 2018 at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL Museum entry is free. Ticket to the exhibition are £5.50 to £8 and free for children under 12. Find out more at vam.ac.uk/winniethepooh.