“ Address: Postbus 2106 / 3500 GC Utrecht / The Netherlands „
There can be few people who don't know who Miffy is; even if they don't know him by name, this little white rabbit with the innocent expression is an instantly recognisable character to people all round the world. Miffy is the central character in a series of story books for children; she was created by illustrator Dick Bruna and has now appeared in 30 story books (though each has been translated into several different languages).
The first book appeared in 1955; being born in the 1970s I could have read Miffy books as a child but they somehow passed me by. Still, I knew enough about Miffy to want to visit the Dick Bruna Huis when I was in Utrecht, the Dutch town where Dick Bruna still has his studio.
The name 'Dick Bruna Huis' is a little misleading because Dick Bruna has never lived in this building. The museum is an off shoot of the bigger Centraal Museum which is just round the corner; although the Dick Bruna Huis is staffed, you have to buy your ticket at the desk in the Centraal Museum and the ticket covers both attractions. The museums are a five to ten minute walk from the heart of Utrecht.
What I really liked about this exhibition is they way they have balanced the content between fun interactive stuff for kids, and something more educational for adults. In the first room there are low level tables and chairs and young visitors can look at some of the Miffy books themselves, or with an adult. The walls in this room are covered from floor to ceiling with a collage of all the books to date in the various languages in which they have appeared. There are also headphones so kids can listen to their favourite Miffy stories read out loud.
The next room contains an exhibition about Dick Bruna and how he started out in publishing working for this father, before going it alone as an illustrator. Before creating Miffy Bruna had a successful career designing covers for paperback novels and many of them are on display here. There's also a short documentary in which Bruna explains the techniques used to give his illustrations that simple, distinctive style. Bruna explains that he was inspired by Gerritt Rietveld, the Utrecht designer and architect; in the film he goes to the house that Rietveld designed and lived in until his death in 1964, and it's clear to see how he has been influenced (the house is also included on the Centraal Museum ticket and visitors can borrow a bike from the museum to cycle to the house).
I found the documentary quite absorbing but it's subtitled and with the noise of the kids in the previous room I had to concentrate quite hard to follow the film. Younger kids probably wouldn't be interested in this part of the exhibition but as long as you could see them I suppose they would be fine staying in the first room until the adults were ready to move on.
The rest of the exhibition is rather eclectic. There was a temporary exhibition, 'Miffy in the Attic' that I felt had a kind of Alice's Adventures in Wonderful feel to it with tunnels to crawl through and cosy hidden rooms. There's also a gallery upstairs that is a more detailed explanation of the techniques that Bruna describes in the documentary but having learned that we could visit the Centraal Museum in the ticket price we decided that it would merely repeat what we had already watched.
Having walked round the exhibition and ended up in the gift shop I couldn't help thinking that the whole thing is just an elaborate ruse to get you to buy some Miffy memorabilia. All the books are available in all of the languages Miffy has appeared in. There are babygros, t-shirts, pyjamas and socks; mugs and plates; bags and purses. You name it Miffy's naive little face is emblazoned on it and you can buy it here.
For entrance into three museums I think the admission charge is fair but if you were only to visit the Dick Bruna Huis it's rather excessive; however, given that under 12s (the target audience for Miffy if I'm honest) go free maybe it's not that unreasonable.
The Dick Bruna Huis is open Tuesday - Sunday 11.00 am - 5.00 pm; it is closed on Mondays.
Admission is Euro11 for 18 - 64 year olds; Euro9 for people over 65; Euro5 for 13 - 17 year olds; free for 12 years and younger.
We had a bought a pass that gave us free admission or a free set meal at any four of the attractions or restaurants listed.
The Dick Bruna Huis is fully wheelchair accessible.
The exhibition looks at Dick Bruna's early career, his experimentation with different illustrative techniques whilst working in his father's publishing house, through to later work creating picture books in his own particular style. Original sketches show the development of miffy over the years.