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Colby-Sawyer College Hosts “Tomie dePaola: NOW” Exhibition as Acclaimed Author and Artist Celebrates 80 Years

Colby-Sawyer College will celebrate the career, creativity and generosity of former faculty member Tomie dePaola, one of the world's most prolific and popular children's authors and illustrators, in the second of two exhibitions at the Sawyer Fine and Performing Arts Center, “Tomie dePaola: NOW.”

The “NOW” exhibition this fall will coincide with the New London resident's 80th birthday and highlight his career from 1975 to the present with fine art and book illustrations. “NOW” will also feature many of dePaola's paintings, which he shows at galleries. He draws inspiration from Mexican folk art, Catholic iconography and the artists he studied in the 1950s at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. “THEN,” held last fall, featured dePaola's early drawings, paintings and books, along with images of his costume and set designs, from the late 1940s until the mid-1970s.

“Tomie dePaola: NOW” will open Sept. 19, 2014, with a reception sponsored by Ledyard Bank from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Marian Graves Mugar Art Gallery in the Sawyer Fine and Performing Arts Center. Admission is free and all are welcome. The exhibition will run through Oct. 26, 2014. The gallery hours through Oct. 26 are Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

An additional free event open to the public, In the Gallery with Tomie, will take place on Saturday, Sept. 20, in the Marian Graves Mugar Art Gallery from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. dePaola's younger fans, their families and friends are invited to a gallery talk, Q&A session and book signing. Books will be available for purchase on-site from Morgan Hill Bookstore.

In conjuction with Alumni Fall Festival weekend, a second session of In the Gallery with Tomie will be held on Friday, Oct. 10, in the Marian Graves Mugar Art Gallery from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. A portion of the proceeds from book sales will benefit the new Colby-Sawyer Fine and Performing Arts Center.

dePaola is perhaps best known for creating the eponymous pasta maker in Strega Nona, a picture book that garnered a Caldecott Honor Award in 1976, but he has published nearly 250 books and sold some 15 million copies. “NOW” will include many of his familiar children's book illustrations, which have earned him awards including the 2011 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for making a “significant and lasting contribution to children's literature.”

It will be a busy fall at Colby-Sawyer for dePaola – in addition to opening “NOW,” he will design the set for the Fine and Performing Arts Department's fall production of Oscar Wilde's “The Importance of Being Earnest.” The play will run Nov. 6–8 at the Sawyer Center; visit for more details.

Colby-Sawyer College, Strega Nona and Tomie dePaola

dePaola's connection to Colby-Sawyer began in 1959 when his friend, Eugene Youngken, the Sawyer Center's first theater director, invited him to create the sets and perform in the center's first production, Thornton Wilder's “The Matchmaker.” He returned as a faculty member from 1972 to 1975.

dePaola taught classes in theater production, costume and set design, and art and film history, and he ran the children's theater company in the summers. During his busy, productive years at Colby Junior College, he also illustrated children's books, and it was here that he created his most beloved and enduring character. “I was sitting in the back at a faculty meeting, doodling on a notepad instead of taking notes, and I happened to draw Pulcinella, the commedia dell'arte character with the big nose and big chin,” dePaola explains. “All of a sudden a little kerchief appeared on him, and this fat little old Italian lady showed up.”

This irresistible character burst into life as Strega Nona, a grandma witch who cooks magical potions in her pasta pot to cure headaches, remove warts and conjure romance in her Italian village. dePaola wrote and illustrated the tale of Strega Nona, which became his first best-selling children's book.

–Drawn from “Tomie dePaola: THEN and NOW” by Kimberly Swick Slover in the Fall 2013 issue of Colby-Sawyer Magazine and “Tomie dePaola: NOW” by Ruth Graham in the Fall 2014 issue of Colby-Sawyer Magazine; see full articles at

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