Illustrator comes to life at GC exhibit

Grove City recently unveiled a new art exhibit at city hall.  

The exhibit, which features the collected works of nationally acclaimed illustrator, Benton Mahan, offers residents a rare glimpse into the mind of an oft published illustrator.

Mahan hails from Ohio, his artistic roots taking him from a youth in Morrow County to college graduation at Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD). The national spotlight beckoned.  

Mahan created illustrations for Hallmark Greeting Cards as well as over 50 children’s books. Among these books, were the well-known series of Muppet books. Mahan developed a  long-running relationship with the late Jim Henson, inventor of the "Muppets." He also created illustrations for "Sesame Street," the award-winning children’s television show on the Public Broadcasting Station (PBS). He also worked in advertising in New York City.

"I wanted to make some money at this business," stated Mahan. "I initially worked for an ad agency then did freelance illustration. Now I focus primarily on children’s books."

The current exhibit highlights Mahan’s expansive body of freelance work  for a variety of periodicals and publications. Mahan hopes the pictures convey intrigue and prompt viewers to wonder what’s behind the scene, what the "twist" is.

Ray Kline, curator for the City of Grove City, convinced Mahan, who has previously shown pieces at the Society of Illustrators and the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Rome, Italy, to bring this exhibit to Grove City.

"This is an example of professional illustrations," said Kline, "the kind you see in magazines all the time and take for granted. Now, you get the opportunity to see the original art."  

Then he added, "It’s a real pleasure. We’re lucky to have them here."

Kline, also an artist, referred to the overall collection as "happy talk" in watercolor, pencils, and graphite. That’s because every work, whether it represents a portrait or illustration, captures the intrinsic joy and absurdities in life. It’s a quality that Mahan, now an adjunct professor at CCAD, hopes to convey in his interactions with students – especially the elementary and intermediate school children he meets on scheduled stops.    

"I’ve been at CCAD for 30 years," explained Mahan. "I’ve always taught one or two days per week – it keeps me active in the field. I don’t really promote school visits anymore but I enjoy doing children’s events, communicating the fun of art to kids."

Mahan’s work is tentatively slated to hang in council chambers through Oct. 19. City Hall, located at 4035 Broadway, is open Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m. For more information, or to arrange a private tour, contact Kline at 875-2423.

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