Playful Pooh Exhibit Open at MFA Boston

Amanda Collins Bernier

Winnie-the-Pooh once said you don’t spell love -- you feel it.

He might have been a silly old bear, but he was a sage one, too.

Pooh’s simplistic wisdom has made the beloved teddy bear one of the most famous children’s book characters of all time. Nearly a century after the honey-loving bear was introduced in A.A. Milne’s children books series, Winnie-the-Pooh stands the test of time -- as relevant and revered today as when he first appeared in 1926.

Now, the real-life story behind the bear -- and his beloved friend Christopher Robin -- have come to life in a playful and multi-sensory exhibition, Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA). The exhibit, which debuted this fall, traces the history and universal appeal of the classic stories written by Milne and illustrated by E. H. Shepard.

Nearly 200 works -- original drawings, proofs and early editions, letters, photographs, and cartoons --take visitors on a journey exploring how the stories of Pooh and his friends Eeyore, Kanga and Roo, Owl, Piglet, Rabbit, Tigger and Christopher Robin have stood the test of time and continue to resonate with readers around the world.

The exhibit reveals the real people, relationships and inspirations behind the charismatic but often befuddled bear and his world.

The show was designed with kids in mind, with several interactive elements for youth to enjoy. Children can go inside Pooh’s home and the childhood bedroom of Milne’s son Christopher—the primary inspiration for Christopher Robin. The space is complete with a bed for kids to sit on and read.

There are also spaces for children to play games and draw in the gallery, including a slide and footbridge, modeled after the beloved “Poohsticks” bridge from the books, that makes visitors feel like they’ve entered the Hundred Acre Wood. Kids are also encouraged to explore their own creativity, with various spaces to play games, draw and read in the gallery.

Visitors of all ages can take in Shepard’s first Winnie-the-Pooh character portraits, drawn to resemble Christopher Milne’s real toys, and original sketches of the Hundred Acre Wood. More than 80 of Shepard’s original pencil/pen-and-ink drawings for the four Winnie-the-Pooh books, including some of the best-known illustrations, are on display.

Set pieces inspired by Shepard’s art, along with video and audio, including a 1929 recording of Milne reading Winnie-the-Pooh, make it an interactive experience for all ages. 

“This exhibition is a wonderful combination of the ‘real’ and the ‘imagined,’ and I hope it helps every visitor reconnect with the original stories—true classics that are worthy of re-visiting,” said Meghan Melvin, who curated the collection.

On weekends, families can stop by the Family Art Cart, where kids can choose from an array of self-guided educational activities, borrow a tote bag with a sketchbook and colored pencils, and check out a storybook to take with them on their Museum journey.

Tickets to Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic are included in admission to the MFA, but are allotted for 30-minute entry time slots. The exhibition will be on display through Jan. 6.