Maurice Sendak: the Man and the Artist
Prof. Maria Teresa Manteo
To read Maurice Sendak is a sublime aesthetic experience. To listen to him is direct communication with the human soul. To contemplate his art is a puzzle that we complete with our own pieces, since his legacy is purely human.
On this paper, you will find links to explore some of the artist’s illustrations, as well as listen to him in past interviews; the material gathered will also allow the reader to gain insight into some of the gifted artist’s motives, which reverberate with the waves of life and death, acceptance and healing. Sadly, Maurice Sendak, the King of Caldecotts, passed away on May 8th.
With the publication of Where the Wild Things Are in 1963, Maurice Sendak pioneered a new way of crafting children’s picture books. Clearly, this picture book marked a new era in the crafting of children’s Literature as it portrays young Max’s inner conflicts in the guise of monsters, whose gnashing teeth and blotched eyes fill the reader with awe and wonder. Probably Sendak’s emblematic representation of his unhappy childhood placed his books on the shelves of children’s literature; however, adults have also found in his art a cathartic mode that voices the perennial fears and dilemmas of human existence. In actual fact, in his last interview with Stephen Colbert, he said: “I don’t write for children. I write. And somebody else says I write for children…”
Roger Sutton, editor in chief of “The Horn Book”, said of Where the Wild Things Are:
“… that book gave artists and publishers and librarians and children a new way to read. Its belief in an audience that could compose its own music for three wordless spreads and draw its own picture on the final page was generous.”
The Artist in Brief
Winner of the 1964 Caldecott Medal for Where the Wild Things Are, in 1970 Sendak became the first American illustrator to receive the international Hans Christian Andersen Award, given in recognition of his entire body of work. In 1983, he received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the American Library Association, also given for his entire body of work. Maurice Sendak is also known as the King of Caldecott’s as he also garnered seven Caldecott Honours, which recognize outstanding merit in children’s Literature.
In addition to Where the Wild Things Are (1963), Sendak wrote and illustrated
The Nutshell Library (1962), Higglety Pigglety Pop! (1967), In the Night Kitchen (1970), Outside Over There (1981), and, We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy (1993). He also illustrated Swine Lake (1999), authored by James Marshall, Brundibar (2003), by Tony Kushner, Bears (2005), by Ruth Krauss and, Mommy? (2006), his first pop-up book, with paper engineering by Matthew Reinhart and story by Arthur Yorinks. His final book, Bumble-Ardy, was published eight months prior to his death. A posthumous picture book is scheduled for publication in February 2013.
In addition, in 1980, Sendak started designing the sets and costumes for highly regarded productions of Mozart's The Magic Flute and Idomeneo, Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen, Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges, Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, and Hans Krása's Brundibár, finding in this medium a way of staging his love of music and storytelling – a blend of exquisite visual detail and the immediacy of theatrical language.
His Life in Brief
As a child he was sickly, born to a very poor Jewish family, who lived in Brooklyn. His childhood was unhappy; since very early in his life he was aware of his fragile existence and that any time the Angel would come to carry him off on his wings, as his mother would warn him. One of his earliest memorable influences was actually his father, Philip Sendak. According to Maurice, his father would recreate tales from the Bible adding bawdy details, which left a strong mark on the mind of young Maurice, whose Bible retellings at school sent him straight to bed.
Sendak did not attend art school but he found in the window next to his bed an endless source of food for his hungry imagination. His granny would use it as a magic lantern, pulling down the shade for young Maurice to imagine stories that would conjure up as she pulled the blind up again.
His most treasured possessions? Mickey Mouse memorabilia. Sendak and Mickey Mouse were born in the same year and Sendak described Mickey as a source of joy and pleasure while growing up. Maurice Sendak looks at himself on the mirror and, guess who he sees… Mirror
Sendak simply loved the classics: William Blake, Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson densely stocked his bookshelves, his best buddy being a boisterous German Shepherd named Herman. Sendak once praised Herman Melville's writings, saying, "There's a mystery there, a clue, a nut, a bolt, and if I put it together, I find me."
The reader can complete this short review following these carefully selected links:
Last but not less important, his reflection on the potential of picture book as a genre in its own right, is worth treasuring:
“You must never illustrate exactly what is written. You must find a space in the text so that pictures can do the work. Then you must let the words take over where the words do it best. It’s a funny kind of juggling act.” – Maurice Sendak
The Guardian Books
The Jewish Museum
María Teresa Manteo holds a degree as an English Teacher for Primary and Secondary School from the Lenguas Vivas Teachers' Training College, where she also completed a post-graduate course in English Literature. She has obtained a Further Professional Studies Certificate in Education Management from the University of Bristol UK as well as a Practitioner's Certificate in Neurolinguistic Programming Applied to Education.
She teaches Literature at IGCSE and International Baccalaureate levels and haslectured for various publishers of English reading materials. As Support Learning Educational ConsultancyDirector, she trains teachers in affective methods in the teaching of reading and writing. She also runs SL educational programme Touch the Author Workshops for Children and Adolescents as well as their new arts project in Spanish Arte y Lectura.