Paddington comes to America: Eric Carle Museum hosts first-ever US exhibit for beloved bear

(Photo courtesy of Sandy Soderberg)

(Photo courtesy of Sandy Soderberg)

Brian Choquet

AMHERST — It was 60 years ago when Paddington Bear traveled across the pond as a stowaway with a suitcase of marmalade and landed in London, where he now resides in the fictional 32 Winsor Drive. The story was told in Michael Bond’s 1958 children’s book “A Bear Called Paddington.”

To celebrate the book’s release and legacy that followed throughout Paddington’s 60 years, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is bringing the Peruvian bear back to the Americas in his first-ever Paddington museum exhibit to be displayed in the U.S. It is one of three museums in the world with a Paddington exhibit display; the others are in Japan and the United Kingdom.

The exhibit opened April 14 in the Carle’s East Gallery. Three programs are scheduled this weekend to celebrate its opening. An opening reception was held today for members of the museum. R.W. Alley, the current illustrator for Paddington since 1997, was in attendance.

Alley joined Ellen Keiter, chief curator of the Carle, April 22 to host a gallery talk at 1 p.m. At 2 p.m., Alley hosted a reading of one of Paddington’s books and an art demonstration. The event ended with a book signing by Alley.

The exhibit explores the history of Paddington and features a multitude of homages to his various iterations that fans may know him for. This includes not only his depiction in literature, but also his transition to the world of TV, movies, and toys. According to Keiter, everyone has “different points of reference” when it comes to Paddington.

For Keiter, her fondness for Paddington began with the 1975 stop-motion TV show “Paddington.”

“He’s such an earnest character and he always has a strong sense of right and wrong,” said Keiter, who noted Paddington’s story can be tied to social justice issues such as immigration.

The talking bear is widely celebrated in his home country of the U.K. and dubbed an iconic figure to British according to Keiter.

While Paddington has two birthdays, June and Dec. 25, she believes the character will always be ageless.

“I think children can really relate to him because he’s in a new country, he’s just trying to figure where he fits in and how to navigate the world,” said Keiter, who admits it can be easy to forget he is a talking bear in a world full of people. “He’s very relatable in that way.”

Before visitors walk into the gallery, designed to resemble London, they have the opportunity to grab a “bus pass” which can be stamped at the handful of recreated London landmarks scattered throughout the gallery. This includes 32 Winsor Drive.

The landmarks are also set up for guest to take pictures in front of them, something that wasn’t always possible at the Carle Museum.

“For two years now we’ve allowed photographs in the gallery,” said Keiter. “We try to create what we call these ‘shareable moments’ for people to remember their times at the Carle.”

Guests are also able to sit in a reading area fashioned after one of London’s visually distinguishable red double-decker buses. At the end of the exhibit, visitors will notice a suitcase — similar to the one Paddington traveled to London with — filled with colorfully drawn and written on paper.

This section was inspired by how Paddington brought a suitcase full of his favorite snack, marmalade, with him when leaving Peru. Guests are able to write down what items they would take with them if they were to leave their home for a new destination and leave them in the suitcase for others to read.

“It’s so rewarding now that it’s up and to see people really interacting with the exhibition,” said Keiter.

Paddington lovers have until October 7 before their favorite bear is shipped off to his next destination, wherever that may be.