The East Room of The Pierpont Morgan Library is home to thousands of volumes from J. Pierpont Morgan’s personal library and numerous additions to the original collection including shelves filled with tiny volumes of juvenile literature and an impressive assortment of historical/religious texts. On its own, the room is a dramatic homage to the late financier’s legacy, regularly the exhibition area for treasures from the museum’s permanent collection. Until November 1st, however, the room hosts a small, though substantial, timeline and history of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are. In sharp contrast to the room’s dark hues, massive bookcases and tapestry-adorned fireplace, the Sendak exhibition lightens the seriousness of the space with a bit of childlike fantasy,
The exhibition, comprised of about 14 pieces of specially selected sketches, final watercolor illustrations and Sendak’s own handwritten notebook pages, chronicles the long creative process behind the uniquely illustrated, nine-sentence book about a boy named Max and the Wild Things he encounters during a voyage into the realm of his own imagination. Though the final volume, published in 1963, went on to win numerous prizes including the coveted Caldecott Medal, awarded annually “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children,” the journey from its early days in the 1950s was long and often difficult.
Early drafts of the text, beginning around 1955, focused on an unnamed boy in pursuit of wild horses and the creatures he meets in the process. One of the more absorbing pieces on display is a 1963 handwritten page of text in which Sendak notes, “Drop this story for time being—I’m forcing it, and it won’t be forced.” On another handwritten page from roughly the same time period, Sendak names the protagonist Max and changes “Wild Horses” to “Wild Things.” His notes on this version include, “Concentrate (as in original) on MAX!” And on the reverse side, “ALL BAD.”
Most fascinating of all in the progression of sketches and illustrations is the way in which the author discarded visual elements, systematically simplifying as he became more and more confident in the direction of the story, particularly in illustrating Max’s mischief making. One early sketch depicts a clawed Max, atop the dining room table, slurping spaghetti, plate and utensils discarded to the floor with the family pets—both cat and dog. The final version eliminated all but Max chasing his dog and a crayon drawing of a Wild Thing from Max’s wild imagination tacked to the wall. It’s clear that Sendak ultimately made the right choices for the final version as evidenced by the extraordinary success of the book over the past 45 years.
The show is part of a citywide celebration honoring Maurice Sendak in conjunction with the Warner Brothers release of the film version directed by Spike Jonze and featuring the talents of James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Cooper and Forrest Whitaker, amongst others. The film opens on October 16th (http://wherethewildthingsare.warnerbros.com/).
But, before you rush out of the museum to see the movie, take a few minutes to look at some of the other jewels of children’s literature in the Morgan Library’s extensive collection from mid-eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. The museum owns a number of iconic works and manuscripts such as an autographed, handmade booklet of Jean de Brunhoff’s classic story, Histoire de Babar from 1931, the first book in the series, the manuscript and drawings for Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s Little Prince and the illustrated letters of Beatrix Potter.
The Maurice Sendak exhibition was organized in cooperation with the Rosenbach Museum & Library, Philadelphia, home to the largest collection—over 10,000 items—of “Sendakiana” in the world. http://www.rosenbach.org/home/home.html
Top: Preliminary drawing of dust jacket for Where the Wild Things Are. Pen and ink, watercolor. Copyright Maurice Sendak, 1963, all rights reserved.
Middle: Maurice Sendak. Photograph by John Dugdale.
Bottom: Final drawing for Where the Wild Things Are. Pen and ink, watercolor. Copyright Maurice Sendak, 1963, all rights reserved.
The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street, New York
Tuesday-Thursday: 10:30 AM to 5:00 PM
Friday: 10:30 AM to 9:00 PM
Saturday: 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM
Sunday: 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM
$8.00 Students, Seniors (65 and over) and Children (under 16)
Free to Members and Children, 12 and under, when accompanied by an Adult
Admission is free on Fridays from 7:00 to 9:00 PM
Other Where the Wild Things Are Events in New York City
October 8 -18: The Museum of Modern Art, Spike Jonze: The First 80 Years, film retrospective
October 13: New York Public Library, Celebrity Reading
October 13: New York City Film Premiere, Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center
October 1 – November 8: Animazing Gallery Exhibition, Sendak in SoHo