The longstanding exhibit at the Children’s Center of the main branch of the New York Public Library, Winnie the Pooh and Friends, is undergoing a temporary change as Winnie (and friends) “go for a spa treatment,” head of the Center Louise Lareau tells visitors. The bear is currently out for repairs, to resew seams in places where he’s gone threadbare. In the exhibition’s place, more treasures of the Library’s collection are on view, including materials given by P.L. Travers herself, items that inspired Mary Poppins.
When Lareau heard that Winnie “would have to go for medical care for three months in the summertime,” a high-season for tourists visiting the library, she knew that whatever replaced Winnie would need to be spectacular. “People come in from all over the world to see him. We’ve had marriage proposals in front of Winnie.” So temporarily, visitors can see original items and some illustrations related to Mary Poppins, which are rarely on display.
The library has had the items related to Mary Poppins since 1972. Lareau said “P.L. Travers just called out of the blue, and asked ‘Would you like the doll?’ ” – referring to the Dutch wooden doll that belonged to Travers and served as inspiration for the illustrations of the character. Travers had come to the U.S. during World War II, and donated items that were used by illustrator Mary Shepard in her drawings for Mary Poppins, including the umbrella, carpet bag, and the doll. Lareau also points out the connection between the two exhibits (Winnie the Pooh and Mary Poppins): Mary Shepard was the daughter of Ernest Shepard, who illustrated the Winnie the Pooh books.
The doll in particular is an important piece of the collection. When the library received it, she was missing a leg and her dress was in tatters. It’s a way Lareau says she can evoke laughter and engage visiting schoolchildren: “they think it’s hilarious that she came in with one leg and naked.” The doll was repaired, and visitors can see that one of her legs is slightly a different color from the other. And a librarian working at the time the doll was acquired sewed her a new dress, though the original is kept within the famed carpet bag, and can also be seen by visitors.
The exhibit will be taken down at the end of the summer when Winnie returns from his convalescence. But, with an upcoming renovation planned for the main library, “my hope is that [Mary Poppins] would also be part of that exhibit, as well as Winnie,” Lareau says of a possible permanent and larger NYPL treasures case. But for now at least, visitors can see a rare piece of children’s literary history on view.