Decorative Arts Center of Ohio showcases the hidden picture puzzles Highlights has been running for 76 years

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LANCASTER, Ohio (WOUB) — People just light up at the mention of “Highlights for Children.”

Bring up the long-running magazine, and you’re sure to get a smile – and maybe even a joke about Goofus and Gallant.

“It’s really something that brings up the warm fuzzies for a lot of people,” said Christine French Cully, editor-in-chief of all Highlights for Children Inc. publications.

One of the magazine’s most iconic mainstay features (alongside classics like Goofus and Gallant and The Timbertoes) is the hidden picture puzzle – which has been a part of “Highlights” for all 76 years of its existence.

Concurrently with their “OHIO: The Start of It All” exhibition, the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio is showcasing “The Art of the Hidden Pictures Puzzle,” an exhibition consisting of a selection of “Highlights” hidden picture puzzles, displayed in the Lower Gallery of the museum. On Sunday, October 30 Cully will visit the museum to dissect the concept and execution of the hidden picture puzzle.

Highlights’ hidden picture puzzles date back all the way to the very first issue of the magazine, published in 1946.

“Highlights was created by two lifelong educators, Dr. Garry Cleveland Meyers and his wife, Caroline Clark Meyers. They had some strong views about what kids need to become their best selves, to be curious, creative, caring, and confident,” Cully said. “They believed, for example, that kids were capable of thinking and reasoning at a much earlier age than was commonly thought back in the ‘30s and ‘40s. They believed that kids learned best from positive examples — and when the learning was fun.”

Cully said the hidden picture puzzles have remained so popular likely because their simplicity means that most people can complete them and feel a rewarding sense of accomplishment. The puzzles also work on strengthening skills that children will need for other types of learning.

“It’s a great vocabulary booster. There’s a list of sight words that kids have to learn to read then find the objects in the hidden picture,” Cully said. “It helps kids develop figure ground perception. It helps them develop attention to detail and develop a sense of object constancy. It helps kids develop good work habits — things like concentration.”

Cully said every picture puzzle tells a certain kind of story, and that over time, it’s been discovered that there are basically seven ways you can hide an object within a larger picture. Although hidden picture puzzles are beloved for their simplicity, Cully said creating them can often be anything but simple.

“We’ve had wonderful illustrators attempt to do them, and they find very quickly that they take a special kind of skill,” she said.

Thanks to the longevity of the magazine, some of the puzzles that have run in the past wouldn’t quite work with a contemporary audience.

“We want to be hiding objects that children can easily identify – so you wouldn’t hide a CD, for example – or a phone that isn’t a smartphone, in a hidden picture puzzle today,” she said. “And both of those examples are things that were commonly hidden in past puzzles – but they just wouldn’t work today.”

Cully said she is honored to have such a beloved part of the magazine be honored by the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio.

“We were delighted to be asked to participate in this exhibition. We are a children’s media company with international reach, but we were started in Ohio more than 75 years ago, and we’re still headquartered in Columbus,” she said. “And we just love the focus on artwork – and artwork for children in general, because we know the power of words and pictures in the lives of children.”

Christine French Cully speaks at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio (145 E. Main Street) Sunday, October 30 at 2 p.m. Cost of admission is $10 for non-members and $5 for members with pre-paid registration, and $15 at the door.