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Gallery View: ‘Alice’ in Kemerer land

Kutztown-based illustrator Kathi Ember’s dynamic “Alice in Wonderland” mural now graces the walls in the children’s area of Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites’ Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts, Bethlehem.

Characters from Lewis Carroll’s 1865 Victorian novel come to life as Alice “drops in” from the ceiling toward the black and white checked road that is skillfully linked to the tiled floor of the museum’s second-floor children’s space.

“It was this floor that made me think of ‘Alice in Wonderland,’” says Ember.

She reread the classic she first encountered as a child for inspiration. “I forgot how cool and funky those books are,” she says of Carroll’s original story and its sequel “Alice Through the Looking-Glass.”

The Cheshire Cat perched on an overhead branch along one wall mischievously grins at several of the story’s familiar characters inhabiting the “Wonderland” landscape on the adjoining wall.

Ember included the Mad Hatter’s tea party scene. She also slyly snuck in a self-portrait. One of the Queen of Heart’s playing-card characters with her likeness sports a paintbrush and can of paint.

“This is done with house paint, mostly,” Ember says of the mural. She uses tube acrylics for small areas. “You can inter-mix them to tint the house paint,” she explains. A stay-wet palette prevented the paint from drying out. A floor varnish sealed the finished painting.

The images, created in Photoshop, were reworked and colored digitally. A numbered grid system transferred the image from computer screen to the wall.

Ember began work on the mural in July 2022, estimating it took 380 hours to transfer her design to the wall and paint it. “That’s not counting the week or two working on the sketch and picking out the colors,” Ember adds. The mural was unveiled Feb. 5. It’s her third mural.

“It really fits in with the Victorian elements that we have in the museum,” says Kemerer curator Brett Peters. “It has a whimsy, an elegance to it.”

The mural ties in with Kemerer’s “From Marbles to Make-Believe: Let’s Play!” vintage toys exhibition, extended through April 30.

Across from the children’s activity area is the museum’s permanent collection of doll houses and miniature room displays.

After receiving a BFA from Kutztown University in 1976, Ember pursued a career in commercial art and illustration. Much of her work was for Rodale Press. She later made illustrations for Little Golden Books and children’s education publications.

Recent storybooks she illustrated include “Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution,” “Mother’s Day Surprise” and “Substitute Groundhog.” These books, as well as prints of the illustrations, are available for purchase at the Kemerer.

The Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts Gallery, 427 N. New St., Bethlehem. Hours: 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Friday - Sunday, and by appointment, Closed Monday - Thursday. 1-800-360-TOUR; www.historicbethlehem.org

“Gallery View” is a column about artists, exhibitions and galleries. To request coverage, email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, pwillistein@tnonline.com

PRESS PHOTO BY ED COURRIER Kathi Ember with her “Alice in Wonderland” mural in Kemerer Museum, Bethlehem.