I-Team Report: Fast and Loose with Dr. Seuss?

November 9, 2011 8:32:20 PM PST
Artwork bearing Dr. Seuss' signature is still being produced, displayed and sold even though Theodor Geisel has been dead since 1991. Now the Cat in the Hat might not seem to warrant I-Team attention. But Geisel is big business. He is number eight on the Forbes list of top earning dead celebrities - right behind Michael Jackson, Elvis and Marilyn Monroe.

For generations of parents and children across Chicagoland, Dr. Seuss has been a family treasure -- 44 children's books created by Geisel. More than 500 million of his books have been sold along with hundreds of millions of dollars in prints bearing his signature.

While the characters are Mr. Geisel's, he never actually made a single one of the individual pieces being sold or the templates used to produce them. Not a picture of a cat, not a print of a hat. Not a green egg or ham. One critic says this means it is misleading to sell them with Seuss' signature.

"The art of Dr. Seuss, unfortunately, consists of non-disclosed posthumous forgeries with counterfeit signatures, all done since 1997. Theodor Geisel died in 1991. He's never seen the work," said Gary Arseneau, Seuss art critic and Florida artist.

Arseneau has been on a crusade to expose the Seuss artwork as mere imitations, produced by other people since Geisel died, using methods Geisel never employed: serigraphs commonly known as silk screening and lithographs that are prints from an engraved plate or stone, neither of which Dr. Seuss Ted Geisel ever made himself.

"The idea that they could arrogantly believe they could substitute their judgment for someone who's dead and leave out that part of who did it and imply that he did it and promote it as art as a serigraph or lithograph, is a rank obscenity," said Arseneau.

In 1994 Dr. Seuss' widow Audrey published a never-seen children's book left by her late husband. Then, as head of his estate, she began having artists recreate Ted Geisel's signed paintings and prints for public sale, placing a Seuss signature on each that the distributor says legally identifies it as authorized by the Seuss estate.

"It's a silk screen. It's a way of reproducing an image," said Gene Defillippo, Atlas Gallery manager.

Atlas Gallery's two Michigan Avenue locations are the exclusive Chicago distributors of Dr. Seuss artwork, priced between $225 and $4,000. In the store, on Atlas' website and other stores the I-Team checked, Seuss works are not labeled as reproductions, but that's how the gallery manager describes them.

"The program didn't start until after Ted Geisel died...these are reproductions that are being offered to people who want to have something that reminds them of Dr. Seuss. And that's what this is all about," said Defillippo.

Bill Dreyer is the curator of the Seuss collection for Chase Art Companies headquartered in Northbrook, the exclusive publisher of Dr. Seuss artwork.

Dreyer declined to be interviewed on tv for this report calling the criticism "nonsense." Iin phone calls he told the I-Team Chase clearly labels everything as a reproduction or recreation.

Chase's web site does disclose that Seuss art is made by "highly skilled artisans and master printers whose job it is to faithfully recreate Seuss' original works by individually drawing and/or separating each color, then mixing and printing them one at a time via a plate or stone lithograph press" to make their limited editions.

But Arsenau says using words like "lithograph" or "limited edition" to refer to mere reproductions is bound to confuse.

"They muddled and obscured the issues by comingling terminology in such a way that they lay person will not know which way is up or which way is down," said Arseneau.

There is no guesswork at the Museum of Science and Industry, whose curators obtained seven actual, original Ted Geisel works and Chase's artwork, which makes up half of the exhibit, is designated as reproductions.

"Each item on display here is clearly labeled as a reproduction and it lists both the materials of the reproduction and the materials of the original work, and it says it is produced by the estate. So for guests its very clearly labeled," said Kathleen McCarthy, Museum Curator.

Chase Art Companies statement:
"We are thrilled to collaborate on the exhibit Dr. Seuss and The Art of Invention. Following Dr. Seuss's death, his family granted us exclusive permission to reproduce limited editions of his original paintings, drawings, and sculpture for exhibition and private collection, thereby offering fans around the world a fascinating glimpse into this American icon."

Bill Dreyer
Artist Manager, Curator - The Art of Dr. Seuss

Chase Art Companies website: www.chaseart.com

Chase' "The Art of Dr. Seuss" website: www.drseussart.com

Dr. Seuss & The Art of Invention Exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry: www.msichicago.org/whats-here/exhibits/seuss

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