To celebrate the career of Maurice Sendak, one of the most influential illustrators of the twentieth century, the Society of Illustrators presented an exhibition of his work in June 2013 and published this catalogue featuring more than two hundred images of Sendak’s work.
Sendak had a varied career, tackling almost any assignment that came his way — department store window displays, operas, posters, advertisements — and bringing to them all his brilliant imagination, artistic power, and an at times sly sense of humor. In addition, Sendak was a scholar and collector of illustration and fine art as well as a keen observer, and he drew on this storehouse to enrich his work. Leafing through the pages of this oversized volume with its well-reproduced images, readers will see intimations of Mickey Mouse, Little Nemo, classic Victorian illustrators, William Blake, Ralph Caldecott. Laurel and Hardy are also influences, most obviously in The Night Kitchen.
Twelve diverse friends and colleagues have contributed largely personal essays to the catalogue, offering interesting glimpses into Sendak’s work although seldom into his life apart from his work. At times these writers assume a little too much, supposing readers will have the same knowledge they have of Sendak. But clearly the focus of this catalogue is Sendak’s work, although occasionally readers might want a little more background to fill out the essays and connect the art in the book with the points the essays make. An index would have helped readers put together some of these connections.
Above all, the value of the catalogue is its publication of much work that has not been seen before — preliminary sketches with notes, casual correspondence, private holdings. It is very satisfying to see a gifted artist at work and at leisure. There is also illuminating material on what Sendak called his trilogy—Where the Wild Things Are, The Night Kitchen, and Outside Over There, three very different books that deal with deep-seated children’s emotions and give them expression in carefully thought-out art. Maurice Sendak offers an exceptional opportunity to look at Sendak’s work and professional life from many angles and to see anew what he achieved. Contributors list.
Maron L. Waxman, retired editorial director, special projects, at the American Museum of Natural History, was also an editorial director at HarperCollins and Book-of-the-Month Club.