In the 1930s, long before he achieved international fame under the pen name Dr. Seuss, Theodor Seuss Giesel was tasked with making an alluring boat show booth featuring Standard Oil.
He created an undersea scene populated with three-dimensional, taxidermy-style creatures straight out of his imagination. The fantastical animals included Giesel's wide-eyed orange "Flaming Herring" and a shark-like "Sludge Tarpon" with an evil, toothy smile.
Decades later, the "Unorthodox Taxidermy" pieces are instantly recognizable as Seuss creations.
People who want to get an up-close look at rarely seen Seuss art — including reproductions of the taxidermy pieces — can do so right here in Ashland.
The Thomas Lee Gallery, 20 S. First St., is hosting a traveling exhibition of authorized estate reproductions of Seuss sketches, paintings and sculptures through Aug. 5.
"People don't expect what they see in here," said Thomas "Lee" Bean, speaking of the Seuss exhibition filling his gallery. "They expect his illustration art. They get more than that. They get a real impression of who he was."
The exhibition, which is making its way around the nation, celebrates the publication of the book "Dr. Seuss's Secrets of the Deep: The Lost, Forgotten, and Hidden Works of Theodor Seuss Giesel."
If you go, plan on devoting some time to not only view the artwork, but to read the signs that detail Giesel's fascinating life and development as an artist.
As a boy, Giesel enjoyed sketching and visiting the zoo, where his father worked as the zoo superintendent. When animals died, Giesel was allowed to use beaks, antlers, horns and other parts to craft inventive taxidermy animals. He put those sculpting skills to work for the Standard Oil exhibit.
During World War II, Giesel helped make animated training films for the U.S. Army, along with other films for the war effort. He also spent time working as a political cartoonist.
His talents as a children's book author and illustrator weren't immediately recognized. His book "And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street" was rejected by 27 publishing houses before finding a publisher.
His big break came after a national movement began to create more lively, entertaining books for children who were learning to read. Giesel and Walt Disney were named as ideal illustrators by members of the movement, leading to a publishing deal for Giesel and the release of his now-classic "The Cat in the Hat."
Reproductions from Giesel's famous books are sprinkled throughout the exhibit at the Thomas Lee Gallery.
The lesser-known works, such as his unorthodox taxidermy pieces, are equally fascinating. As Giesel became more and more popular, he usually had to create pieces for his own enjoyment after working hard all day on his book illustrations and text.
"The art in the exhibit represents what he was doing late at night in his La Jolla, Calif., hilltop studio," said William Dreyer, a Chicago-based curator who put together the traveling exhibition.
The exhibit includes the hallucinatory "Lion Stroll" with lions ambling beneath vivid red trees backed by a brilliant yellow sky.
"Cat Detective in the Wrong Part of Town" features a jumble of houses that seems to mix the abstract styles of Paul Cezanne and Pablo Picasso.
There is even some mild nudity, as with "Booby Trap" — a cartoon of a man looking longingly at a buxom woman, even as a giant hammer is poised to crush him.
People who would like to learn more about Giesel's life and preview some of the art in the show can visit http://www.drseussart.com/.
The gallery is generally open from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Consider calling ahead at 541-482-1135 to make sure it's open during the time you want to visit.
Reach reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.