The idea of learning from the work of artists is what drew Tom Lichtenheld to donate his life’s work to the Mazza Museum. Lichtenheld, a children’s book author and illustrator of titles like the New York Times bestsellers “Duck! Rabbit!” and “I Wish You More,” was recently on campus to donate nearly all of the artwork from 21 of his books to the museum. He said that donating is an honor because it gives his work a “third life,” in that it allows for it to be available to other people for an indefinite period.
“The first life is when I create it,” he explained. “That’s a gift to me. The second life is when the readers see it in the book. Donating is the third life. When that happens, it will and can be cared for and seen, and educate and inspire people even long after I’m gone. That’s the gift to the museum, and I guess it’s a gift to me, as well.”
According to Lichtenheld, if you are dedicated to your craft you never stop learning. Giving was, he said, all in the interest of passing the art on to those who could learn from and most appreciate it. From the winning illustration that his eighth-grade teacher submitted for a Scholastic Art and Writing award to pictures from his most recent books, the art of Lichtenheld will now reside in the Mazza’s vaults until prepared for display.
Lichtenheld wrote and illustrated his first book, “Everything I Know About Pirates,” for his nephew and said that, from that experience, he learned to do his best work with a particular child or person in mind. Now at Mazza, the time and effort poured into his work can be seen by everyone. “Besides practice and time, there’s a lot of learning along the way,” he said. “It looks, to the children, like magic, but it’s definitely something, just like any other craft, that is a continual quest, one that requires constant growth. I think people will see that in the work.”
He sees himself as an appreciator of the work of other artists, so he understands the fascination for it and the need for it to be viewed by a wider audience than just the children it was initially intended for. He explained that when someone pays close attention to the work of any type of artist, they’re seeing that artist’s process, their dedication and the way that they express themselves through their chosen medium. This can be through humor, as in the case of many of Lichtenheld’s books, or through some other means of emotion. The idea, however, is that it’s a living thing and must be seen in order to be appreciated and bring joy and knowledge to those who observe it. “It really does no good sitting on a shelf in my house,” Lichtenheld said.
Lichtenheld pointed out that the specific reason he donated to Mazza is that it’s a place where artists can go to be inspired by other artists. “What artists love more than anything is other artists,” he said, “especially when they see work that they can’t do themselves. When I come to the Mazza, I see art by other artists who are as talented or more talented than I am and they do this wide range of incredible things. I can learn from them and do my stuff in the ways that I wouldn’t normally think to do them.” This includes techniques, styles, and methods of different eras. “Some of the art here that was done 40 or 50 years ago, those techniques have been lost. It inspires me to go back to my skill set and see if I can replicate the technique,” he noted. He went on to suggest that others might do the same thing when looking at his work in the future.
It’s hard to imagine, with a body of work as extensive as Lichtenheld’s, that it’s easy to part with. Artists often regard their work as their “babies,” and, in that way, feel like they want to keep it with them forever, but Lichtenheld said that’s not the case for him and his work. “It goes back to that third life idea,” he said. “It serves a much better purpose here. The only emotion when getting it around and bringing it was joy, because I know that it will be appreciated as much as it can be.”
More on Tom Lichtenheld and his work can be found at www.tomlichtenheld.com.