Theodor Seuss Geisel
"I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”
Brought to life on August 12, 1971, by his creator Dr. Seuss, Lorax is shortish, oldish, brownish, and mossy. He spoke with a voice that was sharpish, and bossy. His mission to tell everyone who comes along, “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”
Yes, there really was a Dr. Seuss! He was not an official doctor, but his prescription for fun has delighted readers for more than 60 years. Theodor Seuss Geisel (“Ted”) or as he was most famously known, Dr. Seuss, was America's best-loved author of children's books. Born on March 2, 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts, Geisel’s father, Theodor Robert, and grandfather were brew masters, who enjoyed great financial success for many years. A doodler at heart, Dr. Seuss often remarked that he never really learned to draw. His school notebooks often included bizarre creatures that framed sporadic notes he had taken in class. Over the years, Dr. Seuss’s illustrations brought a visual realization to his fantastic and imaginary worlds. He personally created every rough sketch, preliminary drawing, final line drawing and finished work for each page of every project he illustrated.
Despite the technical and budgetary limitations of color printing during the early and mid-twentieth century, Dr. Seuss was meticulous about color selection. He created specially numbered color charts and elaborate color call-outs to precisely accomplish his vision for each book. Saturated reds and blues, for example, were carefully chosen for The Cat in the Hat to attract and maintain the visual attention of a six-year-old audience.
Presidential libraries have plenty of art, including numerous portraits of Presidents, but the LBJ Library & Museum has artwork you might not expect - a set of original drawings by Dr. Seuss. It's the artwork from The Lorax, which Dr. Seuss considered his finest work. The book, written in Dr. Seuss's trademark whimsical rhyme, tells the tale of a creature who "speaks for the trees." The Lorax wages a courageous battle against an evil creature called the Once-ler, who cuts down trees to make Th-needs, "which everyone needs."
“It’s one of the few things I ever set out to do that was straight propaganda…it was the hardest thing I have ever done, because the temptation was to fall into the same traps others had fallen into…” Dr. Seuss, Parenting, 1987. Dr. Seuss was having trouble writing “The Lorax” and decided to take a trip to Africa. It was there that he found most of his inspiration for the characters and landscape in the book. The image that broke his writers block was a herd of elephants traveling across a mountain in the distance from the view he had sitting by the pool of his hotel. The Truffula trees are reminiscent of the trees of the Serengeti.
In a 1986 exhibition catalog, Dr. Seuss described in his own words how the artwork from The Lorax came to be in the LBJ Library:
“I don't have The Lorax here [at home]. It's in Texas, and you may wonder why. I was at a dinner for Democrats some years ago, and I sat next to Liz Carpenter, who was [Lady Bird's] press secretary. Since Lady Bird was so interested in beautification, it seemed that environmental protection was a safe topic, so I mentioned that I had written a book on the subject. Liz seemed interested, but soon after, she left the room. When she reappeared, she called me to the phone and said, "The President wants to talk to you." I said "Hello" and there was LBJ thanking me for donating the drawings of The Lorax to his library in Austin, Texas.”
The gift consisted of two sets of art - preliminary crayon drawings and final pen-and-ink line art. On loan from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, some of these originals will be on display at the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature starting June 9, 2012 through October 12, 2012.