Rosenbach Museum and Library honors benefactor Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak, author of the popular children’s book Where the Wild Things Are, died at age 83 Tuesday. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Maurice Sendak, author of the popular children’s book Where the Wild Things Are, died at age 83 Tuesday. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Posted: May 10, 2012

CHILDREN’S AUTHOR Maurice Sendak began his life in Brooklyn and lived in Connecticut until his death Tuesday, but his heart — his work — lives on in Philadelphia at the Rosenbach Museum and Library. The museum has more than 10,000 pieces of Sendak’s work, spanning his career from the ’40s to the early 21st century, and will mount a memorial exhibition in June.

Reacting to the beloved author’s death, the museum opened its doors for free to the public yesterday and will again Wednesday from noon to 8 p.m.

The gallery is exhibiting “From Pen to Publisher: The Life of Three Sendak Picture Books.” It traces Sendak’s process doing The Sign on Rosie’s Door (1960), Outside Over There (1981) and Brundibar (2003) from conception to completion.

“We’re getting a lot visitors today,” Judy Guston, curator and director of collections at the Rosenbach, told the Daily News Tuesday. “Maurice meant a lot to a lot of people.”

The memorial exhibit will contain one work to represent each of the 65 years of Sendak’s career. Work will be cycled in and out to accommodate the 90 Sendak books the Rosenbach has in the collection. It will open on June 10, Sendak’s birthday. The Rosenbach was founded to house the collections of Phillip and Dr. Abraham Simon Wolf Rosenbach, collectors and dealers in rare books and decorative arts. Sendak joined the board of trustees in 1973 and was named honorary president in 2003.

“This is the place where Maurice chose to bring his work,” Guston said. “We will continue to have his legacy live on.”

Sendak first visited the Rosenbach in 1966 and began placing his work there in 1968. In a 2007 interview, Sendak said he did so because the museum collected the works of artists and writers that he loved, including Herman Melville and illustrations from Alice in Wonderland. In 1995, Sendak illustrated Melville’s Pierre: or, The Ambiguities.

“I remember I would lay in Dr. Rosenbach’s room and they would bring me in some drawings for a French novel by Fragonard … And there was a big fur, animal fur blanket, and I used to lay under it with my Fragonards all around,” Sendak said in the interview quoted on the Rosenbach’s website. “Hey — that was living! Of course, they took it all back in the morning … that’s the way of life …”

Sendak’s last visit to the Rosenbach was in April, when he came to see what’s informally known as the “Chertoff mural.” Sendak’s only surviving large-scale work was painted for a New York City family, the Chertoffs, in 1961. The museum acquired and began restoring it in 2008.

“Maurice Sendak was a national treasure and a ‘mensch’ all rolled into one,” Derick Dreher, John C. Haas director of the museum, said in a statement on the website.

Sendak was born in Brooklyn in 1928 to Polish immigrants. During his lifetime, he worked on nearly 100 books. His first, Kenny’s Window, was published in 1956. Sendak won the Caldecott Medal, one of the highest honors for a children’s author, in 1964 for Where the Wild Things Are. He received the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1970 and a Laura Ingalls Wilder Award in 1983. In 2007, Sendak’s partner of 50 years, Eugene Glynn, passed away, leaving Sendak unable to write. Many thought he had retired, but in September he released Bumble-Ardy, the first book he’d both written and illustrated in 30 years. My Brother’s Book, an ode to his late brother, Jack, will be released in February. Sendak has no immediate survivors.

“What we’re hearing from people today is their stories and how [Sendak] affected their lives, whether they read his books as a child or they’re reading them to their children,” Guston said. “No matter where we’ve brought this collection, we always hear those stories.”

Guston had a story of her own: Where the Wild Things Are was the first book she read. “It was the first book that really stirred my imagination and set an impossibly high standard for aesthetics,” she said. “I felt so privileged to work with him for these many years.” n

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Molly Eichel at 215-854-5909 or eichelm@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @mollyeichel. Read her blog posts at www.philly.com/entertainment.

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