“One of those shows you can come along to and enjoy lots of things on the walls but also have a good time while you are there.”

That’s how the man behind one of the most ambitious family exhibitions ever staged at The Lowry describes Picture This which opened this weekend and runs until the end of October.

“I’m determined that every visitor gets the chance to draw or write or perform or create while they are here,” said Michael Simpson, The Lowry’s director of visual arts.

“When we came out of lockdown, the first audiences to come back to The Lowry were the family audiences and it has not stopped ever since. In a way this exhibition is a kind of thank you to them.”

Picture This features six hugely popular children’s books which have also been brought to life on stage. The exhibition will include original illustrations, notes from the authors and costumes from various productions.

“To get this wonderful mix of authors and illustrators is a real achievement,” said Michael. “We wanted to have six diverse books but also ones which had been given a new life on stage. The authors, illustrator, theatre companies and publishers have all been incredibly supportive.


Coming to England by Floella Benjamin. Illustration Diane Ewe

Coming to England by Floella Benjamin. Illustration Diane Ewe


“It is really exciting. A lot of the original illustrations have never been seen by anyone other than the author, illustrator and publisher and they are fabulous works of art in their own right.”

The exhibition features Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler; Coming to England by Floella Benjamin and illustrated by Diane Ewen; Wild by Emily Hughes; The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry with artwork by Chris Riddell; Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol, illustrated by Chris Riddell and You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart.

“In a way this is one of the very few opportunities we have had to make the most of The Lowry as a venue and to celebrate the fact you can see things on stage and go into galleries,” said Michael. “The starting point was the illustrations and then we built it up from there. These illustrations are fantastic. They are as impressive pieces of artwork as we have ever had on show, the quality of work so good.”

Alongside the artwork there will a giant dragon costume from a stage production of Room on the Broom; costumes and ballet shows loaned by the Royal Opera House used in a Royal Ballet performance of Alice in Wonderland.

“Over the summer we want families to come and have a good time,” said Michael. “In the Alice in Wonderland room there’s a massive games table so up to eight families can play games at same time; we’ve got dressing up and paper plane making. There will be stage as a permanent part of the exhibition and twice a day there will be free workshops and storytelling for families to watch or join in.”

Young visitors to the exhibition could also find their own artwork adorning the gallery walls.

“I filmed Axel Scheffler drawing the Witch from Room on the Broom,” said Michael, “and he very kindly gave us that original drawing. We will run a competition during the exhibition and feature children’s artwork and that original drawing will be the prize.”

The whole emphasis on Picture This is on families.


Queen of Hearts with Flamingo, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Illustration © Chris Riddell

Queen of Hearts with Flamingo, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Illustration © Chris Riddell


“We’ve got Alice in Wonderland which probably everyone has seen or read,” said Michael, “then there’s the Little Prince which is one of the most published books in the world with over 200 million copies sold. That is a book which perhaps grandparents may remember fondly.

“Then we have You Choose which is a book I must have gone through a thousand times with my own children.

“I’m sure the exhibition will connect with families on different levels. Children may have read the books, parents may well have read the books to their children and many adults will be taken back to their own childhoods.

“In a way it reflects the immense number of books that are being published for children. Everyone knows the most voracious readers are children and young people - it’s a wonderful way to exercise your imagination.

“There’s a quote from Floella Benjamin in the exhibition ‘childhood lasts a lifetime’ and I love that idea.”

Michael is hopeful that every visitor will take something away from the exhibition.

“One thing I have learned while putting it together,” he said, “is how much of a partnership there is between author and illustrator and how closely they work together on a book. The exhibition gives you a glimpse of that working process and shows that these things don’t just magically happen.

“It’s one of the longest running exhibitions we have done for a long time,” said Michael, “but I think it will be worth it. I am sure that families will come back several times as there will be so much to see and do. The bottom line is that we just want families to come in and have a good time.”

Picture This, The Lowry, Salford Quays, until Sunday, October 30. Admission free. Details from www.thelowry.com