PHILADELPHIA, PA.- The Rosenbach Museum & Library has released a companion DVD to its celebrated exhibition There’s a Mystery There: Sendak on Sendak, which explores the work of Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are and 108 other books. The DVD, titled There’s a Mystery There: Sendak on Sendak: A Retrospective in Words and Pictures, features exclusive interview footage with Sendak at his Connecticut home and in his private studio and explores his extraordinary career through his own words.
Thanks to a grant from the federal Institute of Museum & Library Services, and the help of filmmaker Michael O’Reilly, these interviews present an intimate and fascinating portrait of Sendak as an artist, while documenting his life and work, as well as his remarkable collections. The DVD is available for purchase at the Rosenbach Museum’s Gift Shop and online at www.rosenbach.org/shop.
A Retrospective in Words and Pictures offers viewers the rare opportunity to experience Sendak’s prolific imagination first-hand as the author discusses his favorite characters and the many influences and settings of his richest stories. Organized thematically, the DVD explores four themes: Kids: Innocence & Experience; Beasts of Burden: Monsters, Bullies and Boogeymen; Influences: Family, Friends and Inspirations; and Settings: Cityscapes, Landscapes, and Scenery.
Throughout the DVD, Sendak elaborates on what he calls “the Other Story,” the hidden meanings he sneaks into his books, as well as aspects of his personal life that came to impact his work. Sendak discusses his own childhood and the many influences in his life, from his brother Jack Sendak to his beloved editor Ursula Nordstrom, to a portrait of Alice Liddell Hargreaves – Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for Alice in Wonderland – which sits beside him at his studio drawing desk.
In a conversational style, Sendak reveals the story behind many of his most important works. He talks about the childhood experience that inspired In the Night Kitchen – when his older sister abandoned him at the Sunshine Bakers booth at the World’s Fair while she and her date were babysitting him. He notes that his experience watching the bakers at work and the magnificent aroma of their cooking inspired him to create what he fondly refers to as his favorite book.
Sendak discusses how angels, devils, goblins and other supernatural characters come to life in his stories. His book Outside Over There, which tells the story of a sister’s journey to rescue her baby brother who was kidnapped by goblins, is deeply influenced by his traumatic reaction to the 1932 Lindbergh baby kidnapping, which terrified him as a young child. He also discusses Brundibar, confronting his own story of a childhood shattered by the Holocaust, and his collaboration with playwright Tony Kushner.
Throughout these private conversations, Sendak references other artists who have influenced his work, such as Scottish author and poet George MacDonald, American novelist Herman Melville and British author Beatrix Potter – “[Beatrix Potter] was and is a quintessential children’s book writer because she didn’t write for children”, says Sendak in the DVD. The author also speaks of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy’s Nikolenka’s Childhood and the genius of English poet and painter William Blake’s profound collection, Songs of Innocence and Experience. “Blake was a flaming maniac… He was fearless, totally fearless,” he says. Through these enlightening discussions, viewers learn how an artist is continually influenced by the work of other artists and those around him.
In addition to Sendak’s words, the DVD includes interviews with Toni Markiet, Senior Executive Editor of HarperCollins Children’s Books (Sendak’s longtime publisher); John Vitale, Vice President of Production at HarperCollins; Scholastic’s Michael di Capua (Sendak’s editor since 1964); and Derick Dreher, Director of the Rosenbach Museum & Library. Interviews were conducted by Patrick Rodgers, Traveling Exhibitions Coordinator at the Rosenbach and the consulting curator of the exhibition, There’s a Mystery There: Sendak on Sendak.
Together, the Rosenbach’s exhibition and the companion DVD unveil an intimate portrait of a masterful storyteller engaging with challenging themes such as childhood anxiety, war, poverty and the Holocaust. The Sendak on Sendak exhibition, which opened in May 2008 and runs through May 3, 2009, draws on a total of over 300 objects, with new pieces on display every four months. It is the largest and most ambitious exhibition of Sendak’s work ever created and features original artwork, rare sketches, never-before-seen working materials and exclusive interviews. After completing its Philadelphia run, this exhibition will travel to three other American venues over the next several years.
SENDAK AT THE ROSENBACH Maurice Sendak chose the Rosenbach Museum & Library to be the repository for his work in the early 1970s thanks to shared literary and collecting interests. His collection of nearly 10,000 works of art, manuscripts, books and ephemera has been the subject of many exhibitions and has been enjoyed by visitors of all ages. One of the most famous creators of contemporary children's books, Maurice Sendak has challenged the norms of children's literature over time and continues to entrance both children and adults to this day. His innovative techniques and honest portrayal of childhood emotion are celebrated worldwide and have earned him several prestigious honors, including the Caldecott Book Medal (1964), the international Hans Christian Andersen Medal (1970), the National Medal of Arts (1996), a Library of Congress "Living Legend" medal (2000) and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for Literature (2003).