‘Curious’ exhibit tells of authors’ journey during WWII

Curious Escape from Paris

By Sarah Weinman

As a kid I read and enjoyed all the available Curious George books by Margret and H.A. Rey.  As an adult, I couldn’t help but be interested in the exhibition The Wartime Escape: Margret and H.A. Rey’s Journey from France at Chesterfield Arts.  Based on the book with the same name, written by Louise Borden and illustrated by Allan Drummond, the exhibition tells the story of the escape of the German-Jewish Reys from Nazi-occupied France in 1940.

Hans Rey served in the German army in World War I and visited Brazil after the war, where he met Margret.  In 1935 they married and then traveled to France where they remained until 1940, working on book projects, which included Curious George.

Drummond’s giclée prints highlight important events in the Reys’ lives during their five-month journey from France to the United States.  The whimsical, colorful prints possess a storybook quality even as they depict the Reys fleeing Nazi-occupied Paris or sleeping on a stranger’s floor.

In May 1940, when the Nazis invaded France, the Reys realized they needed to plan their escape.  They bought bicycle parts and assembled the bikes themselves, and took with them as many papers and manuscripts as possible.

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The prints in the show beautifully capture the era’s mood through the use of symbols and the conflation of imagery.  The left side of the print titled Paris Night/Day shows the city at night, a warren of dark winding streets and tall buildings.  A black cloth covers the lamppost’s lantern to hide its light.  Wary Parisians peek out of windows.  In the center of the image, the Eiffel Tower in daylight stands tall with the French flag waving atop it, representing hope and resistance.  But German planes fly overhead.  Later, in Paris Invaded, and the Journey South, the Eiffel Tower flies the Nazi flag.

Along with thousands of others, Hans and Margret escaped from Paris by bicycle. The Reys rode to the town of Orléans where they obtained transit visas out of France and caught a train south through Spain to Portugal.  In Lisbon they boarded a ship bound for Brazil.  After waiting in that country for two months, they finally came to the U.S. in October 1940.  The following year Curious George was published.

The Wartime Escape: Margret and H.A. Rey’s Journey from France is on view through Aug. 12.  Chesterfield Arts is located at 444 Chesterfield Center across from Chesterfield Mall.  Gallery hours are Monday – Friday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and is closed on Saturday and Sunday.  For more information, call 636-519-1955 or visit http://www.chesterfieldarts.org/

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