COURTESY J. OTTO SEIBOLD/CONTEMPORARY JEWISH MUSEUMIllustrations by Oakland-based children’s book artist J. Otto Seibold are on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

CJM goes behind the scenes with Mr. Lunch

Looking at the fresh, offbeat illustrations by artist J.Otto Seibold, it’s hard to believe they were created on an Apple Macintosh more than 20 years ago.

In the 1990s, Seibold was the first artist to use digital software to create a children’s picture book. Starring a little white dog named Mr. Lunch, the story follows the adventures of a professional bird chasing dog who keeps an office for himself and the birds.

The Oakland artist’s work is the focus of an exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. “J. Otto Seibold and Mr. Lunch” includes 18 color prints of illustrations from the Mr. Lunch books by Seibold and Vivian Walsh – “Mr. Lunch Takes a Plane Ride,” “Mr. Lunch Borrows a Canoe” and “Free Lunch.”

There are wonderful pen and ink drawings, sketches and storyboards on display, offering a glimpse into Seibold's artistic process.

The museum’s design team has done an excellent job recreating Mr. Lunch’s office, with stacks of bird seed boxes. The vintage feel of Seibold’s work makes it all the more enticing. There’s an airport security booth for children to pass through as they enter the gallery, and each child gets a free navy blue passport that can be stamped at various spots around the room.

In the corner is a large computer where Seibold plans to hold office hours on select days to demonstrate his drawing skills and discuss his work.

Seibold was already a successful illustrator in New York when he decided to try his hand at children’s books. He was visiting his friend and neighbor, illustrator Lane Smith, when Smith pulled a hefty royalty check out of his mail.

Seibold met Smith's editor, and with a partially finished version of “Mr. Lunch Takes a Plane Ride,” a book was born.

Seibold says he hopes the exhibit appeals to the kid who doesn’t want to be on a museum field trip – the kid “with a teacher on each side” to keep him in line. He wants to spark interest in kids, he says, who are much like he was.

“Mr. Lunch is the quintessential outsider,” says Lori Starr, the museum’s executive director. “At the end of the day he has to be who he is.”

The show is the sixth at the museum featuring the work of a children's book illustrator and the first with a Bay Area children's book artist.

“It's a tremendous opportunity to showcase the work of a local treasure and to celebrate the distinctly tech-savvy trail he blazed in children's literature,” Starr says.

IF YOU GO

J. Otto Seibold and Mr. Lunch

Where: Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., S.F.

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except closed Wednesdays and to 8 p.m. most Thursdays (closed Thanksgiving day); show closes March 8

Admission: $5 to $12

Contact: (415) 655-7800, www.thecjm.org

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