Barnsley goes wild for Brian Wildsmith

The World of Brian Wildsmith: a new exhibition of art and illustrations will enchant children and parents alike.

World-renowned children’s book author and illustrator Brian Wildsmith will be celebrated through a season of exhibitions spanning two of Barnsley Museums fantastic free attractions. 


Paws, Claws, Tales & Roars: The Art of Brian Wildsmith at the Cooper Gallery and Coming Home: The Life of Brian Wildsmith at Experience Barnsley Museum, Barnsley South Yorkshire, are two new free exhibitions on display from Saturday, 20 April to Saturday, 4 January.


The shows will be awash with the vibrant palette and limitless imagination that define Brian's beloved books, including his ABC, The Owl and the Woodpecker, Jungle Party, and many more. 


‘The World of Brian Wildsmith,’ will be a delight for all ages - from younger visitors to families, designers, artists, and illustrators, to anyone interested in literacy. Encouraging all to read more, look closer, and create. There will be a programme of activities based around Brian’s stories, including ‘Brian’s Wild Wood’ which will be available to explore in the Cooper Gallery, and opportunities for budding artists to learn new skills, including a local school competition: ‘Paws, Claws, Tales & Roars - The New Generation.’ 


The two exhibitions delve into every aspect of Brian's creative journey, spotlighting his masterful draughtsmanship and wildly imaginative use of colour. Both exhibitions have been developed with love and passion in collaboration with the family of Brian Wildsmith and Barnsley Museums.


This marks the first time, anywhere in the world, that Brian’s personal collection of original illustrations, early works, drawings, paintings, photographs, and memorabilia are being shown together. It offers a never-before-seen glimpse into his artistic brilliance. Whilst Brian later made France his home, it was only fitting that his family choose his birth town of Barnsley as the first to showcase this unprecedented body of work, spanning sixty years of creativity. 


In parallel to this event, British design house Liberty Fabrics will be launching a capsule fabric collection, ‘Wildsmith's Wonderful World,’ featuring original illustrations by Brian Wildsmith, reimagined by Liberty. These unique fabrics will be highlighted within the exhibition and products made using the collection will be exclusively on sale from the Gallery shops.


The newly published Brian Wildsmith gift book, paws, claws, tails, & roars: Brian Wildsmith’s Animal Kingdom, published by Oxford University Press will be on sale at both Gallery gift shops. The golden-edged edition brings together artwork from three of Wildsmith’s iconic works: Wild Animals, Birds, and Fishes, digitally remastered by his son, Simon Wildsmith.


In addition, a totally new and expansive range of prints, posters, and assorted merchandise featuring Brian's enchanting artwork, and designed by his son Simon, will be launched for this occasion and available for purchase at the two gallery shops. These exclusive items provide attendees with the chance to bring home a tangible piece of Brian Wildsmith's magical artistry.


Born in Barnsley in 1930, Brian studied at Barnsley School of Art before receiving a scholarship to London’s Slade School of Art. He made his name in 1962 when Oxford University Press published his ABC, a richly coloured alphabet, brimming with patterns, textures, and the sheer joy of paint.


This Kate Greenaway medal-winning ‘rainbow explosion’ launched Wildsmith’s career and helped to spark a picture book revolution. Eighty one books followed and Brian has since been recognised as one of the world’s finest illustrators. His books have been translated into over thirty languages with worldwide sales exceeding 20million.


Councillor Robin Franklin, Cabinet Spokesperson for Regeneration and Culture, said: “Barnsley has always been a place to develop artistic and creative skills, and we are delighted to be the birthplace of such an iconic and well-loved author and illustrator. The exhibitions will be great for families to spend time during their visits to the town centre and a wonderful way for children to connect with Brian’s books and artwork, hopefully inspiring the next generation.”


Brian’s children said: "We are so happy to have been given the opportunity to celebrate our beloved father’s life and work in the place where he was born, the place where it all began - Barnsley, it’s warm, friendly people and Yorkshire’s landscapes were so close to his heart and he often said he would move back there in a flash, if only it would stop raining!”


Brian said: “There is one source of happiness that never changes, regardless of age and that is creativity. I was expressing in colour the wonder and beauty of the world in which we live.”


Image Credit line:

A stare of owls - paws, claws, tails & roars © The Brian Wildsmith Estate, 2024. Reproduced with permission of The Brian Wildsmith Estate and Oxford University Press.