Arizona Museum for Youth

“Once Upon A Time: Fairy Tales, Frogs and Fables,” a new exhibition open at Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa

In Chandler artist Sue Cullumber’s version of Little Red Riding Hood, it’s easy to imagine the Big Bad Wolf might take one look at Little Red and hop right out of Grandmother’s jammies and straight through her plate-glass window.

Seriously — pull back that scarlet hood, and Cullumber’s magenta-haired, troll-faced Red would surprise more than a few granny-eating perps.

That’s the kind of twist put on stories from childhood in “Once Upon A Time: Fairy Tales, Frogs and Fables,” a new exhibition open at Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa. Full of artwork that re-imagines storybook staples, it also features plenty of opportunities for kids to make their own art and make believe. Curator Jeffory Morris shares more.

Q: Tell us about the artwork in the show.

A: When we went out to find art, a lot of it was either too dark or too hokey, and we really wanted something between those two extremes. We have artists from Arizona, California, New York, Houston and the Bahamas, and they do a nice job of taking a fresh approach to some of these classic stories without being too adult or being boring.

Q: AMY is known for pairing fine art with imaginative hands-on activities. What’s in store on that front?

A: Well, the best thing is when we can get kids learning without even realizing it because they’re too busy having fun. So they can create a Mad Hatter hat and go into a glow-in-the-dark tea party where the teacups and dishes are all lit up. There’s the gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel, where they can create their own puppet show. There’s a room that’s all about Cinderella stories around the world, where they can dress up as Cinderella the servant girl or the princess. There’s a castle-building activity with wood blocks and a story board where you can create your own fairytale. And they can blow down three houses, like in the Three Little Pigs, with air guns.

Q: Where did your team find all the detailed props and costumes?

A: We give ourselves a good amount of time to procure things. Dena Cruz, our curator of education, found a lot of the costumes and glass slippers and props that children will be able to play dress up with. The trees we fabricated here on-site, and we faux-painted them. Koryn Wesson, a Mesa artist, made five great Alice in Wonderland character hats that people will be able to wear.

Q: The appeal for kids is obvious, but what will adults find intriguing?

A: You know, this is especially a fun show because everyone, no matter what their age, has their own experiences or memories with fairytales. They’re part of our culture as humans. As children, these stories are play; they’re just stories. But our perception changes as we grow older, and we can look at something like Little Red Riding Hood and say, “Wow, this wolf is really a predator.” Or Hansel and Gretel — my favorite as a kid — I mean, that’s about cannibalism. So it’s always kind of interesting to revisit with an adult perspective and realize things that maybe never occurred to you before.

But, also, we made a conscious decision to stick with pretty universal, traditional tellings of the stories across cultures. There are newer versions out there that put more of a twist on them, but we wanted it to be truly intergenerational, so parents and kids and grandparents can come in together with the common ground of these shared stories and do the activities together while they’re sharing memories and talking and learning.

Q: What’s your favorite part of “Once Upon A Time”?

A: What I really like about this one is how you can truly immerse yourself in this world of fairytales and fables. From the moment you enter the exhibit, you’re walking into this enchanted forest, into your own fairytale, and you have the option of putting on a costume and moving through the forest from place to place, doing different activities as you go.

Contact writer: (480) 898-6818 or

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