This summer, Tacoma Art Museum brings a little bit of Springfield to Tacoma as its newest exhibit, Bart at TAM: Animating America’s Favorite Family, gives museumgoers an in-depth look at the process, work and Pacific Northwest connections behind America’s longest running primetime scripted series on TV – The Simpsons.

For more than 30 years, The Simpsons has given its viewers a look into the life of a working-class family through humorous parodies of American culture and human behavior, but many don’t know about the incredible amount of work and artistic design that went into the process of bringing the show to life. Bart at TAM showcases a private collection focusing on the art and process of animation that made America fall in love with Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie, and their dysfunctional family lifestyle. This colorful exhibition is home to over 100 pieces of hand-drawn and hand-painted drawings and cels from the first 13 seasons of The Simpsons, before the show went completely digital in 2002.

Simpsons at Tacoma Art Museum
This bright and out-of-the-ordinary exhibit is fun for all ages and features a number of hands-on activities that the whole family can enjoy. Photo credit:Gabriella Kinner

“Tacoma Art Museum has a history of doing exhibitions about the art of illustration and how artists use images to tell stories and to create environments through pictures,” Margaret Bullock, Chief Curator at Tacoma Art Museum says. “Of course, all museums do that, but we’ve been really interested in illustrators who’ve done a number of animated shows of all different kinds.”

Bill Heeter, owner of the private collection, is a collector of classic animation works ranging from Dr. Seuss to Looney Toons and has had a number of his collections on display in museums throughout the country. Heeter’s complete collection dedicated to The Simpsons has close to 1,000 pieces of animated work from the first 13 seasons of the show, when each of the animations was hand-drawn, inked and painted by fine artists who ultimately brought The Simpsons to life. Bart at TAM will teach visitors about the process of animation all while exploring the different elements that make up the show’s unique identity, characters and humor. 

Matt Groening, famed cartoonist and creator of The Simpsons, was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and is a graduate of the Evergreen State College in Olympia. Within his work for The Simpsons, many have recognized Groening’s references to the region throughout the series, showing that the fictional Northwest town of Springfield and the South Sound’s own Grit City are actually quite similar.

The Simpsons Exhibit at Tacoma Art Museum
Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons and Northwest native, is known to often reference the Northwest throughout his work on the show, including this scene from Season 6, Episode 15 where Krusty teaches Homer Simpson words that sound interesting at Krusty’s Clown College. Photo credit: Gabriella Kinner

The Bart at TAM exhibit first welcomes visitors straight into the living room of The Simpson household where museumgoers can snap a photo sitting on the show’s infamous couch. From there, viewers can explore the vibrant and colorful walls lined with sketches, cartoons, neon signs and more.

One single episode of The Simpsons takes six months to create and Bart at TAM provides a unique behind-the-scenes look into how animated shows come together. Pieces throughout the exhibition highlight the animation process, beloved episodes, characters, scenes and themes from the show, among local connections made throughout the series. Get hands on with a number of family-friendly activities such as making a flip book, learning how to draw cartoon characters, or learning how to write your own jokes.

Various events will be held throughout the duration of the exhibition like Cartoon Trivia Night on August 22 and an Illustration Drawing Rally held on September 19.

Simpsons Tacoma
From the first rough draft to the final hand-painted cel, Bart at TAM gives a unique look into the process of animation and how the show comes together. Photo credit: Gabriella Kinner

“The thing that strikes me the most that I get the most joy out of is that I’ve had some of these cels out for 10 years and I still walk down the hallway and chuckle when I see them. I think that’s what really good animation is all about,” Heeter states. “It’s not just a picture; it’s a voice, it’s the memory of the scene, it’s the writing and the directing. It’s a combination effort and I think The Simpsons is brilliant.

Bart at TAM will remain open through October 27, 2019, making TAM the first museum in the nation to showcase work solely from American’s longest-running television show, The Simpsons. Tacoma Art Museum is located at 1701 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma WA 98402, and is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday, with free admission every Thursday evening from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

To learn more about Bart at TAM, visit their website for more information.

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