Celebrity ’90s CT artist’ I SPY ‘photos on display in New Britain


Now two generations of readers and researchers have grown up with Walter wickI SPYAnd “Can you see what I see” picture puzzle books. But what people might not know is that the artist behind the books is from Connecticut; he was born in Hartford and has lived in the area most of his life. Her writing collaborator on the “I Spy” rhyme books was another Connecticut native, Jean Marzollo, who grew up in Manchester and was an editor at Scholastic when she met Wick.

On display are eight enlarged photographic illustrations taken from the pages of three different books by Wick, including one of the first classics, “I SPY Fantasy” from 1994. The main scene is that of a turreted sand castle defended by knights in armor where some of Wick’s playful incongruities are easier to spot than others.

For example, on the parapet of the castle there is a knight whose shield is a button, while at the bottom a duck and a turtle join the fray. But searching the castle might run out of bigger invaders at the border: a beach ball big enough to flatten the castle and the overturned bucket spilling an avalanche of sand.

The revelation for some museum goers is that Wick really used tons of sand to build his original castle. She, and most of her other photographic illustrations now known around the world, started out as assemblages, like miniature film sets or dioramas.

Near the sandcastle is a scene (or page) from another old book, “I SPY Treasure Hunt”, from 1999. It shows a rocky island. Just offshore in the foreground is a walnut shell canoe. But the label that gives the title “Look Through Binoculars” and asks viewers to find the skull hidden in the rocks remains a mysterious close-up.

It is only by stepping back, at the entrance to the gallery opposite, that the skull takes shape and the two binocular orbs gain in density, acting as a circular frame to the island scene.

Maura O’Shea, the museum’s education director who helped prepare the exhibit, said that although it is aimed at families with children, she has seen adults holding the scavenger hunt guide for photographic illustrations.

“These are very sophisticated images,” she said. “His job is to see at a very deep level. But he trains you in this whimsical, fun way.

The eight images in the exhibition were selected from a total of 84 in the museum’s permanent collection, donated in 2015 by Wick and his wife and business partner, Linda Cheverton Wick.

A graduate of the Paier College of Art in Hamden, Wick took an early interest in photography, especially landscapes. Some of the images in the exhibit could be called created landscapes, such as the island from “Treasure Hunt” and the Rainbow Express steam train crossing a trestle from the 1994 “I Spy Fantasy”.

He attributes numerous collaborators to the third book represented in the New Britain exhibition. This is “Treasure Ship” from the latest “Can You See What I See” series. One image depicts a glowing pirate treasure chest, so detailed that each of its pieces could be assessed. Another is the pirate ship itself, now confined to a bottle on a shelf.

The eight images currently on display are expected to stay until the end of October, when they will change depending on the season. Two other Wick classics are “I Spy Christmas” from 1992 and “I SPY Spooky Night” from 1996.

The exhibition until December 31 at the New Britain Museum of American Art.

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