WHEELING, W.Va. (March 18, 2015)- – It has often been said that more people recognize Bugs Bunny than the Mona Lisa. Whether or not that is true, the statement certainly illustrates the universality of animation art.

Oglebay Institute’s upcoming Toontastic! exhibit is a celebration of the art of cartooning and a must-see for fans of comics and cartoons.

“Animation is all around us — every time we turn on the TV, watch a movie or surf the web. Cartoons are part of our culture and engage people of all ages,” said Rick Morgan, director of OI’s Stifel Fine Arts Center. “This exhibit provides a glimpse into the rich history of animation and some of the most enduringly popular cartoons of all time.”

The exhibit opens April 2 with a free, public reception at OI’s Stifel Fine Arts Center in Wheeling and features an exclusive collection of more than 80 pieces from the private collections of cartoonist Joe Wos and Wheeling resident and cartoon art enthusiast Dr. Dan Joseph.

Thanks to a partnership with the Wheeling Symphony and a grant the Symphony received from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, Toontastic! is more than just an exhibit to be viewed. Several interactive programs, including animation workshops, school programs and a cartoon festival, are scheduled to take place in conjunction with the exhibit. All programs complement the Symphony’s April 11 concert Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II, a show of classic Warner Bros. cartoons featuring live orchestra accompaniment by the Wheeling Symphony, conducted by George Daugherty.

“We are grateful to the Symphony for approaching us as a community partner. We are thrilled to host these wonderful programs that provide entertainment and learning opportunities to a wide range of audiences, ” said Stifel Center director Rick Morgan.

A collector’s exhibit, Toontastic! features storyboard sketches and animation cells of iconic characters from multiple generations and from all the favorite studios such as Warner Bros., Disney and Hanna-Barbera, to name a few.

Some of the pieces reflect how literature inspires art while others are “process pieces” that show how animation works.

“We usually only see animation as finished cartoons. It is cool to see some of the original art and hand-drawn pieces behind what we see on the screen,” OI director of exhibitions Brad Johnson said.

Works in the exhibit span several decades from a 1914 sketch from “Gertie the Dinosaur,” the first film to use animation techniques such as keyframes and animation loops, to modern-day pieces like “The Little Mermaid” and “Sponge Bob.”

Much of the exhibit focuses on Looney Tunes characters and Chuck Jones, the creative genius most famous for his work in the 1940s and 50s at Warner Bros.’ legendary cartoon studio. Jones created animated characters with distinctive and wildly eccentric personalities. He perfected the wisecracking Bugs Bunny, the perpetually exasperated Daffy Duck and created the eternal antagonists Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner and the incurably romantic Pepé Le Pew.

Jones was an essential player in what was known as the “Golden Age of American Animation,” a period that began in the late 1920s and continued until the late 1960s when theatrical animation began losing to the new medium of television animation.

“Originally cartoons were made for theaters. The production time was long, and they were expensive to make,” Dr. Joseph, who is an expert on animation history, explained. “In fact, it took about 24 drawings for every second of a cartoon, and production time for one seven-minute short was about nine months.”

Joseph said it is the masterful skill of the creators and the intelligent, bold, irreverent humor that give cartoons their “staying power,” and, although cartoons are often passed off as juvenile, the stories and humor are intelligent and sophisticated.

“Kids find them funny, but they were written for adults. The writing is brilliant. Anyone can tell a story, but to make it funny you must have command of the subject matter. These guys had seven minutes to capture your attention, tell a complete story and have you laughing at the end. That’s not an easy thing to do. It takes a type of brilliance that not a lot of people have.”

Another fascinating aspect of cartoons is the music. Many people, particularly Americans, got their introduction to classical music by watching cartoons.

Joseph said all the early cartoon studios incorporated popular music and original compositions into animated shorts, but they also used classical music to great effect.

He said Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes (T-U-N-E-S. Get it?) did it the best.

Cases in point: Rabbit of Seville (a spoof of Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville), Rhapsody Rabbit (employing Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt) and, of course, What’s Opera, Doc? (consistently ranked as the best cartoon of all time) in which Elmer Fudd chases Bugs Bunny through a parody of Richard Wagner’s operas and features the famous line “Kill the Wabbit,” sung by Fudd to the tune of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries.

Joseph said cartoons break down a lot of social and cultural barriers, which was evident to him when he attended a performance of Bugs Bunny on Broadway, the first incarnation of what is now known as Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II, in Pittsburgh several years ago.

He described seeing a diverse audience, dressed in everything from tuxedos to jeans to Looney Tunes costumes. “Whether you were age 80 or age 4, all barriers were gone. It was just a group of people laughing together enjoying these masterpieces.”

Morgan said he hopes Toontastic! will bring generations together, foster a deeper appreciation for cartoons and their highly skilled creators and serve as an introduction for children to a larger world of comedy, entertainment and culture.

Toontastic! will be on display from April 2 – June 12 at the Stifel Fine Arts Center and can be viewed free of charge from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Friday and 10 a.m. – 4p.m. Saturdays. Evening hours are dependent of classes and events. Please call 304-242-7700 for additional viewing hours or to register for animation workshops.

Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II takes place April 11 at the Capitol Theatre. Tickets are available by calling 304-232-6191 or at www.wheelingsymphony.com 

Toontastic! Special Programs:

Toontastic! Opening Reception 
5:30-8pm Thurs., April 2; Stifel Fine Arts Center
This free, family event features face painting, petting zoo, refreshments and music by the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra Brass Quintet. Guests can come dressed as their favorite cartoon character.

Classic Cartoon Marathon 
4-5:30pm Sat., April 4; Towngate Theatre
Relive classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies for free on the big screen.

“How to Toon” Family Animation Workshop with Joe Wos 

6-8pm Tues., April 7; Stifel Fine Arts Center
Join master cartoonist and storyteller Joe Wos for a family-friendly workshop on cartoon character drawing. Refreshments will be provided.

Animation Workshop for Adults with Joe Wos 
6:30-8:30pm Wed., April 8; Stifel Fine Arts Center
Learn a classic American art form from a master cartoonist and a guided exhibit tour of Toontastic! Hors d’oeuvres, beer and wine will be provided.

An Evening of Animation Q&A 
6:30-8:30pm Thurs., April 9; Stifel Fine Arts Center
Explore the history and music of animation art with cartoonist Joe Wos, collector Dr. Dan Joseph and composer Nate Strasser (via Skype).