Matt Crandall’s Alice in Wonderland Collection Now at GEM
Comic Character Collectibles
By J.C. Vaughn
Geppi’s Entertainment Museum (GEM) hosted an invitation-only opening event for its two new exhibits on Friday, April 1, 2016; the event also served as a kick off for their sixth annual Zombie Gras festival, which was held the next day. In addition to The Artistry of Amanda Conner (detailed in this column last month), GEM debuted Matt’s Crandall’s personal collection of items from Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland at the kick-off event. Actress Katherine Beaumont, who voiced Alice in the 1951 film, was in attendance for the party.
Crandall’s Alice exhibit has its origins in a 1971 trip the collector took to Disneyland with father.
“We spent one whole day just wandering the park looking for the walk-around character to take photographs. At parade time we got curb seats so that we could hopefully get more pictures. During the parade the walk-around Alice stopped and talked with me and shook my hand. I was transfixed. After the parade I remember we had time to go on one more ride and my Dad wanted to go on Pirates [of the Caribbean]. During the entire ride I held my hand under my shirt so it wouldn’t get wet and wash off the Alice,” Crandall said.
The seeds of an obsession were planted, though they took many years to germinate. Crandall eventually forgot about the incident until he had been collecting for a few years, but it all came back to him when he saw a Disneyland employee newsletter from 1971 that featured a picture of that Alice. Boom!
“It all came back. Aside from that childhood experience, I just love the artistry of the film, and especially the variety of objects created for its original release. Some of the most beautiful pieces of Disneyana were created for Alice, both here and abroad,” he said.
“I’ve been actively collecting Alice since March of 1989, when I attended a Disneyana show in Southern California and made the conscious decision to specialize in Alice in Wonderland. Up to that point I was a general Disney collector, with an (unrealistic) goal of collecting the one-sheet poster, comic book adaptation, and at least one animation cel from every Disney animated movie,” he laughed.
“Yeah, that didn’t happen, but I did achieve that and a whole lot more when I focused solely on Alice,” he said.
“I started out like everyone, I collected anything and everything. With Alice it was particularly difficult in the early years, as Disney did not produce much merchandise in the 1980s as compared to the other films. But as I became more advanced I realized there was an entire world of material from Alice’s original release in 1951, and those are the things that interest me the most. The kinds of items in the collection run the gamut from original production and pre-production art, to toys, games, movie posters, and even food packaging. But probably the largest single category in my collection is vintage ceramics from all over the world,” he said.
Asked how many items were in his collection, Crandall offers a forthright reply: “That is a very good question. I have no idea,” he said.
“One of the things I’m currently working on is cataloging the collection as I write my book on 1951 Alice merchandise. The hope is that by writing the book I’ll get a better idea of what is in the collections. There are over 200 items in this exhibition alone and that barely scratches the surface of what is in the collections,” he said.
“I did an exhibition at the public library in my home town of Torrance, California in 1991 for the 40th anniversary of Alice. The library had three display cases through which they rotated special exhibits throughout the year, and my friend convinced them that a display on Alice in Wonderland would be particularly relevant since Alice was originally a book. That exhibition was significantly different from this one as I had only been collecting for two years, but I did manage to fill the cases,” he said.
“This exhibition was originally supposed to be a part of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America’s (LCSNA) Alice 150 celebration in the fall of 2015,” he said. 2015 was the 150th anniversary of the publication of the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland story by Lewis Carroll. In October of 2015 the LCSNA held a large conference with many exhibitions on all things Alice throughout New York City.
“Sotheby’s was originally going to host my Disney exhibition, but they backed out. We were never able to find a suitable location for the Disney exhibit in NYC for Alice 150, so the exhibit was shelved. I later remembered that Steve Geppi had his entertainment museum and I contacted Mike Solof (GEM’s Collections and Exhibits Manager) to see if the museum might be interested in hosting the exhibition, if not part of Alice 150, perhaps as part of Disney’s 65th anniversary of their Alice,” he said. “And the rest is history.”
For the exhibit at GEM, included are more than 200 items spanning the breadth of Alice collectibles: original pre-production and production art including cels, drawings, and paintings, movie posters, books, magazines, toys, games, dolls, ceramic figures, advertising, and photographs. The exhibit begins in GEM’s lobby with movie posters, then follows the white rabbit into the hallway where art and posters are displayed, including a large TV monitor playing a feature on Alice, then into an exhibit room where dozens upon dozens of figures, games, toys, purses, and other collectibles are showcased.
“I think the exhibit is beautiful. I’m really impressed with the wonderful things that you have that are displayed so beautifully. It really is nicely done,” Katherine Beaumont said.
The Alice in Wonderland exhibit will run for six months, through October 2. There is no extra charge to view this exhibit.
GEM is located at Camden Yards 301 W. Camden Street, Baltimore, MD 21201, a short walk from tourist friendly Inner Harbor. For more information visit geppismuseum.com or call (410) 625-7060. J.C. Vaughn is Vice-President of Publishing for Gemstone Publishing. Gemstone’s Amanda Sheriff also contributed to this column.
Matt Crandall’s Alice in Wonderland Collection Now at GEM