Winnie-the-Pooh exhibit revisits classic childhood story



The MFA’s exhibit uses original drawings, letters, photographs and more to transport museum-goers into the land of A.A. Milne’s story.

Becky Perelman and Jackie Perelman

Big blue balloons lead the way to the entrance; turning a corner, you enter a child’s bedroom. There is a bed and windows and decorations. Looking closer, you see the decorations are hand drawn pictures of a bear and his friends: Piglet, Eeyore, Owl, Kanga, Roo and Tigger.

“Winnie-the-Pooh” is one of the most famous children’s books, a Disney story and also had an exhibit devoted to it at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) from Sept. 22, 2018 to Jan. 6, 2019. Written by A.A. Milne and illustrated by E.H. Shepard, “Winnie-the-Pooh” has universal appeal; the book has been translated into over 50 languages and has sold almost 200,000 copies. The exhibit, Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic, displays the history of the story through 200 works: original drawings, letters, photographs, early editions of the book as well as the original bear, made in 1902.

The exhibit is not just an art installation. Rather each photo and illustration is part of the long history of the famous bear. Milne brought his son’s toys alive through the “Winnie-the-Pooh” novel. Although Christopher Robin’s bear was made by the company Steiff teddy bear, Shepard’s illustrations are based off of his son’s bear, named the Growler.

The MFA brings the story to life by modeling the exhibit after the Hundred Acre Wood from the book, which was based off of Ashdown Forest in England. Walking into the exhibit, we felt as though we were being transported right into our favorite childhood book. The visitor passes the child’s bedroom and enter’s Rabbit’s house. There is even a place for museum-goers to find “themselves in a tight spot” to get stuck in, just like Pooh did in the book.

Through the small opening, you enter a large exhibit room with a bridge and a life-sized tree that seems to be growing up through the ceiling. It is the infamous tree which Pooh climbed to reach the bee’s honey. On the opposite side of the tree is Piglet’s house, where children can ride on a slide. The exhibit did an excellent job of incorporating simple and recognizable images, and creating an authentic experience.

The walls are decorated with expanded versions of Shepard’s illustrations of trees, trails and quotes from the book. The exhibit copies the book’s layout: Shepard visualized the whole page as a unified design, incorporating both text and illustrations. We were fascinated by the explanations of some of the more important pages and teachings in the book.

Furthermore, the original artwork hangs on the walls with explanations of how Shepard and Milne decided how the characters were to look and act.  

We thought this exhibit did an excellent job of depicting Winnie the Pooh and explaining how he came to life. The exhibit was simple. There was a lot that younger kids could interact with, yet there was also a great deal of complexity about the story that required analysis to understand.

As you leave the forest, you return back to Christopher Robin’s house, but most of the room is taken up by a stairwell. On the side it reads: “bump, bump, bump.” This beginning scene depicts when Christopher Robin drags his teddy bear down the stairs to ask his father for a bedtime story. However, the same staircase appears at the end of the book and symbolizes a return to the real-world, to bath-time and to bed.