I was about six when my aunt handed me a book to read to my younger cousin – a tiny red book that fit perfectly in the palm of my hand. I can still recall my wonder at the joyful anarchy of the eponymous Pierre, who was my age, talked back and just didn’t care.
Years later, as I read to my own children from the Sendak repertory, now expanded to include “Where the Wild Things Are’ (1963) and “The Night Kitchen” (1970). “Let the wild rumpus start” and “Milk in the Batter! Milk in the Batter! Stir it! Scrape it! Make it! Bake it!” became household mantras, recited religiously on all possible occasions.
The current exhibit at The Society of Illustrators conjures up these delights and more in this evocative exhibit of more than 200 never-before-seen original drawings by Maurice Sendak, dubbed by Time, “the Picasso of children’s books.” Along with drawings of some of his best-known and beloved characters and scenes, this wide-ranging exhibit allows us to appreciate the breadth of Sendak’s genius, including lesser-known illustrations for his commercial and theater design.
Some of the pen and ink drawings, such as “The Goblins” and “The Master Thief” from 1973 and “Beyond the Bedroom Wall” (1975) conjure up etchings by Dürer and Blake: Other more exuberant works invoke the spirit of mischief and planned mayhem that so drew me to my first encounter with young Pierre. But perhaps the most moving and disturbing of them all is his drawing for a 1993 New Yorker cover, “We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy,” promoting his book of the same name, a commentary on children’s homelessness set to nursery rhyme couplets. The contrast between the dire subject matter and the charm and whimsy of his drawing is both jarring and compelling.
The Society of Illustrators does not allow reproductions of any of the displayed works. So be sure to make your way there to start your own foray into the wild rumpus of Sendak’s world.
“Maurice Sendak: A Celebration of the Artist and his Work” is on view through August 17th at The Society of Illustrators,128 East 63rd Street, New York City, 212-838-2560.
Gloria Kestenbaum is the President of Kestenbaum Associates, LLC, a corporate communications consultancy.