As children in paint-flecked smocks crowded around the huge canvas in Bedford art gallery, splotches of yellow combined to form an unusual picture: a man, in a bathtub, with underwear on his head.
In the upper left corner, a taco appeared, floating in the air above a skunk.
Above the tub, the words “be silly” gave the children—all of whom were attending the 2016 Virginia Children’s Book Festival at Longwood University—permission to imagine and create to their hearts’ content.
The mural they finished, which combines the work of bestselling children’s book author Todd Parr and Longwood alum Monty Montgomery, will bring that same silliness and positive energy to countless more children in the main lobby of Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s new 640,000-square-foot outpatient Children’s Pavilion.
“It was such a fun project,” said Juanita Giles, VCBF director. “Several hundred children collaborated on the mural, and you could watch the characters and books come alive with each brush stroke. I can think of no better place for it to hang than in a children’s hospital, where it will help brighten the spirits and days of kids and their families.”
The mural, a 6-foot by 16-foot acrylic painting on birch panel, teems with color and energy. A combination of Montgomery’s signature geometric shapes and Parr’s instantly recognizable characters, the mural radiates positivity and fun.
The focal point, a combination of iconic images from Parr’s books It’s Okay To Be Different and The Underwear Book, is surrounded by bubbles, more Parr characters and phrases lifted from his bestselling children’s books like “be who you are,” and “be brave.”
The Virginia Children’s Book Festival gifted the mural to Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, it was installed in the outpatient Children’s Pavilion on Tuesday.
“We are thrilled to add this whimsical and kid-friendly mural to our art collection in the Children’s Pavilion,” said Suzanne Britt, director of the Children’s Pavilion. “This vibrant mural and its empowering messages that our differences make us unique and are something to be proud of really resonates with our team, and will inspire the more than 25,000 children and families that receive care in the Pavilion.”
Parr and Montgomery—both of whom live in California—became fast friends at the 2015 Virginia Children’s Book Festival and responded enthusiastically when Giles pitched the mural project shortly thereafter.
“I was immediately intrigued,” said Parr, who will return to Longwood University’s campus this October for the 4th annual VCBF. “We both love to use color and bold shapes, and so I thought our work would fit really well together. When we got talking, we both realized we had worked on large-scale art projects before too, so all the pieces really came together nicely. It’s really an innovative way to spread the message that reading is fun, and I’m so happy the mural will hang in a place where lots of children can see it.”
Montgomery joined the book festival’s board in 2015 after helping lead several illustration workshops at the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts. A 1998 Longwood graduate, he is based in San Diego but maintains deep ties to the region.
“My mother was an elementary school teacher in Louisa County,” said Montgomery, “and it really warms my heart to think that kids like the ones she taught will see this mural and be happy because of it. I feel honored to have been able to collaborate with Todd, whose positive outlook on life matches my own.”
Todd Parr is the author and illustrator of more than 45 books for children, including the New York Times bestselling The I Love You Book. He is the co-creator of the popular television show ToddWorld as well as short films for Sesame Street. Learn more at www.toddparr.com.
Monty Montgomery is a San Diego-based artist who was born in Virginia and attended Longwood University. He is one half of the mural team KREASHUN. Learn more at www.montymontgomeryart.com.
The Virginia Children’s Book Festival is a free, three-day event held each October on the historic campus of Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. Each year, more than 7,000 children from around the state read, write and draw with some of the world’s most beloved and cherished authors and illustrators. Learn more at www.vachildrensbookfestival.com.
Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU is Central Virginia’s comprehensive, full-service children’s hospital and the only Level I pediatric trauma center in Virginia. CHoR provides pediatric inpatient and outpatient services that cover nearly all children’s health-related needs. As part of VCU Health, CHoR is committed to ensuring access to care for all children, training future pediatric caregivers and making new discoveries that improve understanding and treatment of childhood diseases. For more, see chrichmond.org.