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Dr. Seuss exhibit coming to Museum of Science and Industry

A sculpture CHgreets visitors Museum Science Industry's new exhibit The Life Dr. Seuss opening Thursday. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

A sculpture of the Cat in the Hat greets visitors at the Museum of Science and Industry's new exhibit, The Life of Dr. Seuss, opening Thursday. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:20PM

The Tufted Gustard. The Andulovian Grackler. The Semi-Normal Green-Lidded Fawn.

These mysterious, bizarre creatures from the 1930s can only be seen in the Museum of Science and Industry starting Thursday as part of a new exhibit “Dr. Seuss & the Art of Invention.”

Featured in a “Collection of Unorthodox Taxidermy,” the made-up animal heads are reproductions of creations Seuss made out of turtle shells, deer antlers and elk horns, specimens his zookeeper father kept in a box around the house.

The animals aren’t the Grinch, Sam I Am or the Lorax. But anyone who has held a Seuss book, no matter how long ago, will recognize the Seuss-specific whimsy behind them.

“He had a wonderful, wild imagination, an ability to make nonsense fun and educational,” said Bill Dreyer, the curator of the artistic portion of the Seuss exhibit.

Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote and illustrated 44 children’s books, making him one of the best known and best-selling of all children’s authors. But before and between writing the books, he created advertisements and editorial cartoons, often with what Dreyer calls a “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” adult sense of humor.

For seven decades, at night, even at the peak of his commercial success, he painted fine art that he hoped would earn him critical praise.

He hoped the praise would come, but he didn’t know and didn’t want to risk it. After he died in 1991, more than 40 of these paintings were found behind a hidden door in his La Jolla, Calif. home.

“If the children’s books were the heart of the man, his artwork was his soul,” Dreyer said.

The paintings were the basis for a 1995 book “The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss.” Two years after the book was published, Seuss’ widow Audrey Geisel, now 90, gave permission to recreate art held in private collections for public use. From that came a gallery show of Seuss’ work which grew into the museum exhibit. The Museum of Science and Industry is the largest institution to date to host the exhibit, which runs through January 8, 2012.

“Galleries have been in on the inside secret of this collection for the last 10 years,” Dreyer said. “Just now the broader public is getting the chance to see what he was doing at night for himself.”

Anne Rashford, the museum’s director of temporary exhibits, said the closer look at Seuss’ life and work — much of it unfamiliar to fans of his books — fit with the museum’s mission to inspire people’s creative and inventive sides. The museum’s Christmas Around the World will have a Grinch theme tied into the exhibit this year, and museum staff liked that the Seuss exhibit appealed to different generations.

While there is plenty of mature nuance in Seuss’ work for adults to wonder about, kids will have their hands full in a number of interactive exhibits museum staff created, like magnetic boards to create sentences using the 50 words in “Green Eggs and Ham” and gears to invent air purifying machines based on “The Lorax,” among others.

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