During his long career, Maurice Sendak illustrated over 100 children’s books, including the childhood classic Where the Wild Things Are, published in 1963. A new exhibit at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Maurice Sendak: The Memorial Exhibition 50 Years, 50 Works, 50 Reasons, celebrates his influence on readers everywhere. Viewers can get a look at Sendak’s original illustrations, drawings made for friends and fans, theatrical production designs, animation cels, and sketches in a variety of mediums.
“I think it is unnatural to think that there is such a thing as a blue-sky, white-clouded happy childhood for anybody. Childhood is a very, very tricky business of surviving it. Because if one thing goes wrong or anything goes wrong, and usually something goes wrong, then you are compromised as a human being. You’re going to trip over that for a good part of your life.” —Maurice Sendak
Sendak created a visual language that has captivated generations of children. His distinctive pen and ink illustrations communicate the offbeat humor of his writings. Although he sometimes indulged in lighthearted plots, his picture books often have menacing elements: fanged monsters, baby-stealing goblins, and young protagonists placed in dangerous situations. Sendak gave children the opportunity to engage with ethical dilemmas, to feel afraid as well as joyful, and to take part in imaginative play. “Children do live in fantasy and reality,” he said, “they move back and forth very easily in a way we no longer remember how to do.”
Sendak’s books continue to thrill and fascinate young people all over the world. Where the Wild Things Are, the tale of Max’s journey into another world, has been lovingly recited by countless parents to their children. Known for a variety of characters and picture books, Sendak initially illustrated other authors’ books before starting to write his own in the 1950s.
“Children are tough, though we tend to think of them as fragile. They have to be tough. Childhood is not easy. We sentimentalize children, but they know what’s real and what’s not. They understand metaphor and symbol. If children are different from us, they are more spontaneous. Grown-up lives have become overlaid with dross.” —Maurice Sendak
The 50 works of art in the exhibition feature characters from Where the Wild Things Are, Little Bear, and In the Night Kitchen, among others. They’re accompanied by quotes from fellow illustrators and friends who’ve shared their thoughts on Sendak and the ways in which he inspired them. “His art gave us a fantastical but unromanticized reminder of what childhood truly felt like,” says Stephen Colbert.
Maurice Sendak: The Memorial Exhibition 50 Years, 50 Works, 50 Reasons runs through August 12.
The Figge Art Museum is open 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tuesday–Sunday (10 a.m.–9 p.m. Thursday). Admission is $7 adults; $6 for ages 60 and up and students with ID; $4 for ages 3–12. Call (563) 326-7804 for details. The Figge Art Museum is located at 225 West 2nd Street, Davenport, Iowa.
“I’m totally crazy, I know that. I don’t say that to be a smartass, but I know that that’s the very essence of what makes my work good. And I know my work is good. Not everybody likes it, that’s fine. I don’t do it for everybody. Or anybody. I do it because I can’t not do it.” —Maurice Sendak