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Maurice Sendak

 (1928 - 2012)
Maurice Bernard Sendak was active/lived in Connecticut, New York.  Maurice Sendak is known for fantasy animal children's book illustration.

Maurice Sendak

Biography from the Archives of askART

One of the pre-eminent children's book authors and illustrators of the twentieth century, Maurice Sendak has produced over a dozen books of his own as well as illustrating more than seventy stories by other authors. He is well known both for his distinctive illustrations and for his stories, which explore, in unsentimental terms, how children deal with their fears and emotions through fantasy. Sendak's career has also encompassed such projects as film adaptation and set and costume design for a variety of theatrical productions.

Maurice Bernard Sendak was born on June 10, 1928 in Brooklyn, New York, the youngest child of Philip and Sarah (Schindler) Sendak. Before World War I, his parents left their Jewish shtetls (small towns) in Poland to come to the United States, where Philip went to work in Manhattan's garment district. The Sendak family also included a daughter, Natalie, and another son, Jack, who is five years older than Maurice. Jack Sendak works in electronics, but has also written several published children's books, including two illustrated by his brother.

From an early age Maurice's imagination was fueled by the bedtime stories of his father, a dressmaker in New York City's garment district, would tell the children. Often melancholy and full of fantasy and mythical symbols, they were spun out of East European Jewish folklore. Because he was a sickly child, stricken with measles and pneumonia at the age of two, and scarlet fever at four, Maurice spent a major portion of his childhood at home drawing pictures of the life he observed outside his window. At the age of nine he started writing stories with his older brother, Jack, and the two hand-lettered and illustrated their work on pieces of shirt cardboard that they bound together with tape.

It was his older sister, Natalie, who gave Maurice his first book, Mark Twain's Prince and the Pauper, on his ninth birthday. "A ritual began with that book, which I recall very clearly," Sendak told Virginia Haviland in an interview for the Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress (October 1971). "It was such a beautiful object...[It] smelled good and it also had a shiny cover. I remember trying to bite into it, which I don't imagine is what my sister intended when she bought the book for me. But the last thing I did was to read it. It was all right I think it started then, a passion for books and bookmaking."

Maurice was also drawn to the comic books and movies of pop culture, and was especially fascinated by Mickey Mouse, who was born in the same year as he. Sendak says he recalls copying with all his might every picture his brother drew, signing his name to his brothers drawings, and presenting them at school as his own work. He started drawing at a very early age, loving pictures and books with a great passion, and has said that he knew he wanted to be a writer and illustrator before he even went to school.

During his years at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, Sendak held a part-time job with All-American Comics, adapting Mutt and Jeff newspaper comic strips to a comic-book format. Except for his art classes, Sendak hated school. "School is bad for you if you have any talent," he told Selma G. Lanes. "You should be cultivating that talent in your own particular way." Outside the classroom, Sendak taught himself cross-hatching and other techniques from such nineteenth-century illustrators as Wilhelm Busch, Boutet de Monvel, and the Victorian caricaturist George Cruikshank.

After graduating from high school in 1946, he moved to Manhattan, whose bustling elegance had always attracted him. He found work constructing papier-mâché fairy tale characters for Timely Service, a window-display house. It was during his employment there that Sendak's illustrations were first published, as an accompaniment to Atomics for the Millions (1947), a book written by his high school physics teacher. When a promotion in 1948 removed him from the sort of work he enjoyed, Sendak quit his job and returned home to his parents. Then, "out of a job, out of sorts and money," he spent hours at the window, filling sketchbooks with drawings of Rosie, a ten-year-old girl whom he admired for her ability to imagine herself into being anything she wanted to be.

In the summer of 1948, Sendak collaborated with his brother, carving and painting six mechanical wooden toys that Jack had engineered. The brothers brought their creations to famous New York toy store F.A.O. Schwartz, where store executives admired the toys but felt that they would cost too much to mass-produce. Impressed with Sendak's talent, however, they offered him a job as assistant director of the window-display department, a position he held for the next three years.

While working at F.A.O. Schwartz, Sendak enrolled in some night classes at the Art Students League, largely to please his father. During a display of his drawings at the store, F.A.O. Schwartz's book buyer invited Ursula Nordstrom, Harper & Row's children's book editor, to stop by. Captivated by Sendak's sketches, Miss Nordstrom immediately hired him to illustrate Marcel Ayme's Wonderful Farm (1951), his first children's book. Thus began a long and fruitful association, a period that Sendak called one of the happiest times of his life. Then came A Hole Is To Dig, by Ruth Krauss, for which he was awarded The New York Times Best Illustrated Book. Working with Ruth Krauss was an inspiration to him, and he learned how to make text and pictures work with each other, and not against.

Sendak's reputation as a children's book illustrator was firmly established with his drawings for Ruth Krauss's book A Hole Is to Dig (1952), a collection of such word definitions as "A dream is to look at the night and see things." Subsequently deluged with freelance illustrating offers, Sendak left his job at F.A.O. Schwartz to pursue his true calling and moved into his own apartment in Manhattan.

Also during his twenties, Sendak underwent psychoanalysis, a process, he told Jonathan Cott in an interview published in Pipers at the Gates of Dawn (1983), that "enriched and deepened me and gave me confidence to express much that I might not have without it. People used to comment continually on the fact that the children in my books looked homely, Eastern European Jewish as opposed to the flat, oilcloth look considered normal in children's books," Sendak told Cott. "They were just Brooklyn kids, old-looking before their time. But a baby does look a hundred years old."

After some years of illustrating, he finally wrote and illustrated his own book, Kenny's Window in 1956, which garnered praise from critics, and in 1957 his second, Very Far Away, which was also well received. He also collaborated with Meindert DeJong. One of their efforts was The Wheel on the School. Another book collaboration was The Happy Rain, written by Sendak's brother, Jack.

Up to this point Sendak's works had been popular, but some critics felt that his books were "somewhat derivative". That perception ended abruptly in 1963 with the publication of his Where the Wild Things Are. This highly original work, which remains his best known, features a boy named Max, whose mother sends him to his room without supper for acting like a "wild thing". Max vents his anger by turning his room into a world of wild creatures, which, Sendak has noted, were inspired by the faces of his Jewish relatives.

Where the Wild Things Are marked a turning point in Sendak's career. He felt that all the work he had done up to that point was merely preparation for creating this work. Its publication, for which he received the coveted Caldecott Medal in 1964, confirmed his place as an internationally famous children's book author-illustrator. The book also generated a good deal of controversy at the time of its publication. Many reviewers praised Sendak's ability to capture effectively the strong emotions of childhood, but others, including child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, felt that the book was far too frightening for small children.

Several years later, Sendak suffered a heart attack.  Recovering, he learned that his mother had cancer. He also realized that his beloved dog Jennie would soon be dead. All of these factors led him to produce his most personal work, Higglety, Pigglety, Pop! or, There Must Be More to Life in 1967. The story, illustrated with black-and-white drawings, more somber than many of his previous efforts, recounts the adventures of Jennie, a Sealyham Terrier just like Sendak's dog, who decides "There must be more to life than having everything!" and leaves home. After working to gain experience, she wins the leading role in the World Mother Goose Theatre's production of "Higglety, Pigglety, Pop!" Reviewers were enthusiastic about this fantastical tale, though they noted that it was more melancholy than his previous works.

Sendak spent the next two years working on In the Night Kitchen, published in 1970. The pictures for this story were a bit of a departure from Sendak's usual style; here he produces more graphic, almost comic-book illustrations. The story is a celebration of the sensual joys of childhood, with the gleeful hero Mickey, who loses his clothes near the beginning of the book, immersing himself first in batter and later, after he cleverly fashions an airplane out of dough to escape, in milk. The full frontal nudity in some of the illustrations generated some controversy when the book was published, but most reviewers found the story captivating.

Sendak produced some of his most masterful pen-and-ink illustrations for a collection of Grimm's fairy tales, published under the title The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm in 1973. He continued to collaborate with other authors, producing illustrations for Randall Jarrell's Fly by Night in 1976, for which he won a New York Times award for best illustrated children's book; and working with Matthew Margolis to create Some Swell Pup, or, Are You Sure You Want a Dog? in 1976. He also spent two years working to produce a half-hour animated film adaptation of the Nutshell Library and The Sign on Rosie's Door, which aired in 1975. The script, with musical numbers by Carole King, was published as a book and was later developed into an Off-Broadway play, opening in October 1980 and running for a year.

In 1981, Sendak published Outside Over There, the third book in the trilogy he began with Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen. A strange, magical tale that examines such strong emotions as jealousy and sibling rivalry, the story tells of nine-year-old Ida, who is entrusted with the care of her baby sister. While Ida is engrossed with playing her horn, goblins come in and kidnap the baby. Ida flies after the goblins and rescues her sister by playing her horn and dissolving the goblins into a whirling stream. The book has been highly praised by critics. John Cech of the Christian Science Monitor (May 11, 1981), called the illustrations "hauntingly beautiful". John Gardner in The New York Times Book Review (April 26, 1981) termed it "a profound work of art for children". Sendak received the American Book Award in 1982 for this work.

In the 1980s, Sendak became involved in producing costume and set designs for opera and ballet, including the Houston Grand Opera's production of Mozart's Magic Flute, the New York City Opera's production of Leos Janacek's Cunning Little Vixen, Sergei Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges, the Los Angeles Opera's production of Mozart's Idomeneo, and the Pacific Northwest Ballet's production of Nutcracker and the Mouse King, an adaptation of E. T. A. Hoffman's original Nutcracker tale.

In 1984 he produced two books, The Love for Three Oranges; The Glyndebourne Version, with Frank Casaro, and Nutcracker, with Ralph Manheim, both of which grew out of his work on the theatrical productions.

Sendak's later works included the 1993's We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, a pictorial narrative of urban children at risk that accompanies the text of two Mother Goose rhymes; and the illustrations for Arthur Yorink's The Miami Giant, which tells of an explorer who discovers a lost tribe of giants.

Sendak's contribution to the world of children's literature has been profound. With his unique ability to capture the joys, fears, and insecurities of childhood, he has revolutionized the content of children's books, expanding the limits of what is considered appropriate for young people.  In recognition of his achievements, Sendak has received numerous awards, including the Hans Christian Andersen International Medal in 1970 for his body of illustration work (he was the first American to be so honored); the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award in 1983 for his "substantial and lasting contribution to children's literature"; and the 1996 National Medal of Arts, awarded by President Bill Clinton. The New York Times reviewer Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wrote, "There is a grandeur and complexity about the pictures that intimidates. They have a quality of nightmare."

The wide-ranging influences on Sendak's art extend from family Photographs, to King Kong (evident in Wild Things), comic books, the images of Arthur Hughes, Beatrix Potter, and Jean de Bruhnoff (the author and illustrator of the Babar books), and the art of the nineteenth-century illustrator Randolph Caldecott. "Randolph Caldecott gave me my first demonstration of the subtle uses of rhythm and structure in a picture book," Sendak wrote in his essay "Some of My Pictures". In his Caldecott Medal acceptance speech, he attributed Caldecott's greatness to "the truthfulness of his vision of life," which "children recognize as true to their own lives".

Never married, Sendak left New York for the calmer environment of a country home and studio in Ridgefield, Connecticut. He filled the gap left by his beloved dog Jennie's death with Erda, a German shepherd, and Io, a golden retriever. Shy and soft-spoken, Sendak says that although he loves children, he has few regrets about not having any of his own. He listens to music when he draws. "Sketching to music is a marvelous stimulant to my imagination," he said in his Caldecott Medal acceptance speech, "and often a piece of music will give me the needed clue to the look and color of a picture". Sendaks eleven-room house is "filled with the treasures of a civilized and playful mind", according to John Lahr, in his article for the New York Times Magazine (October 12, 1980), including first editions of Herman Melville, Henry James, and Beatrix Potter, original artwork by Winsor McCay and William Blake, and an extensive collection of Mickey Mouse memorabilia.

Sendak's stories are enjoyed in thirteen languages, and 3,000 of his drawings are housed in the A.S.W. Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. In 1988 he became artistic director of the Sundance Children's Theatre, a newly created branch of Robert Redford's Sundance Institute. Sendak has also taught at Yale University and the Parsons School of Design.

Biography from the Archives of askART
Following are excerpts from The New York Times obituary of the artist:

Maurice Sendak, Children's Author Who Upended Tradition, Dies at 83
Published: May 8, 2012

Maurice Sendak, widely considered the most important children's book artist of the 20th century, who wrenched the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery and plunged it into the dark, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful recesses of the human psyche, died on Tuesday in Danbury, Conn. He was 83 and lived in Ridgefield, Conn.

The cause was complications from a recent stroke, said Michael di Capua, his longtime editor.
Roundly praised, intermittently censored and occasionally eaten, Mr. Sendak's books were essential ingredients of childhood for the generation born after 1960 or thereabouts, and in turn for their children. He was known in particular for more than a dozen picture books he wrote and illustrated himself, most famously Where the Wild Things Are, which was simultaneously genre-breaking and career-making when it was published by Harper & Row in 1963.

Among the other titles he wrote and illustrated, all from Harper & Row, are In the Night Kitchen (1970) and Outside Over There (1981), which together with Where the Wild Things Are form a trilogy.  In September, a new picture book by Mr. Sendak, Bumble-Ardy — the first in 30 years for which he produced both text and illustrations — was issued by HarperCollins Publishers. The book, which spent five weeks on the New York Times children's best-seller list, tells the not-altogether-lighthearted story of an orphaned pig (his parents are eaten) who gives himself a riotous birthday party.

A posthumous picture book, My Brother's Book — a poem written and illustrated by Mr. Sendak and inspired by his love for his late brother, Jack — is scheduled to be published next February.

Mr. Sendak's work was the subject of critical studies and major exhibitions; in the second half of his career, he was also renowned as a designer of theatrical sets. His art graced the writing of other eminent authors for children and adults, including Hans Christian Andersen, Leo Tolstoy, Herman Melville, William Blake and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

In book after book, Mr. Sendak upended the staid, centuries-old tradition of American children's literature, in which young heroes and heroines were typically well scrubbed and even better behaved; nothing really bad ever happened for very long; and everything was tied up at the end in a neat, moralistic bow. Mr. Sendak's characters, by contrast, are headstrong, bossy, even obnoxious.

A largely self-taught illustrator, Mr. Sendak was at his finest a shtetl Blake, portraying a luminous world, at once lovely and dreadful, suspended between wakefulness and dreaming. In so doing, he was able to convey both the propulsive abandon and the pervasive melancholy of children's interior lives.

His visual style could range from intricately crosshatched scenes that recalled 19th-century prints to airy watercolors reminiscent of Chagall to bold, bulbous figures inspired by the comic books he loved all his life, with outsize feet that the page could scarcely contain. He never did learn to draw feet, he often said.

In 1964, the American Library Association awarded Mr. Sendak the Caldecott Medal, considered the Pulitzer Prize of children's book illustration, for Where the Wild Things Are. In simple, incantatory language, the book told the story of Max, a naughty boy who rages at his mother and is sent to his room without supper. A pocket Odysseus, Max promptly sets sail:

And he sailed off through night and day
and in and out of weeks
and almost over a year
to where the wild things are.
There, Max leads the creatures in a frenzied rumpus before sailing home, anger spent, to find his supper waiting.

As portrayed by Mr. Sendak, the wild things are deliciously grotesque: huge, snaggletoothed, exquisitely hirsute and glowering maniacally. He always maintained he was drawing his relatives — who, in his memory at least, had hovered like a pack of middle-aged gargoyles above the childhood sickbed to which he was often confined.

Maurice Bernard Sendak was born in Brooklyn on June 10, 1928; his father, Philip, was a dressmaker in the garment district of Manhattan. Family photographs show the infant Maurice, or Murray as he was then known, as a plump, round-faced, slanting-eyed, droopy-lidded, arching-browed creature — looking, in other words, exactly like a baby in a Maurice Sendak illustration. Mr. Sendak adored drawing babies, in all their fleshy petulance.

A frail child beset by a seemingly endless parade of illnesses, Mr. Sendak was reared, he said afterward, in a world of looming terrors: the Depression; the war; the Holocaust, in which many of his European relatives perished; the seemingly infinite vulnerability of children to danger. The kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby in 1932 he experienced as a personal torment: if that fair-haired, blue-eyed princeling could not be kept safe, what certain peril lay in store for him, little Murray Sendak, in his humble apartment in Bensonhurst?

It showed in his everyday interactions with people, especially those blind to the seriousness of his enterprise. "A woman came up to me the other day and said, 'You're the kiddie-book man!' " Mr. Sendak told Vanity Fair last year."I wanted to kill her."

But Mr. Sendak could also be warm and forthright, if not quite gregarious. He was a man of ardent enthusiasms — for music, art, literature, argument and the essential rightness of children's perceptions of the world around them. He was also a mentor to a generation of younger writers and illustrators for children, several of whom, including Arthur Yorinks, Richard Egielski and Paul O. Zelinsky, went on to prominent careers of their own.

As far back as he could remember, Mr. Sendak had loved to draw. That and looking out the window had helped him pass the long hours in bed. While he was still in high school he worked part time for All-American Comics, filling in backgrounds for book versions of the Mutt and Jeff comic strip. His first professional illustrations were for a physics textbook, Atomics for the Millions, published in 1947.

In 1948, at 20, he took a job building window displays for F. A. O. Schwarz. Through the store's children's book buyer, he was introduced to Ursula Nordstrom, the distinguished editor of children's books at Harper & Row. The meeting, the start of a long, fruitful collaboration, led to Mr. Sendak's first children's book commission: illustrating The Wonderful Farm, by Marcel Aymé, published in 1951.

Under Ms. Nordstrom's guidance, Mr. Sendak went on to illustrate books by other well-known children's authors, including several by Ruth Krauss, notably A Hole Is to Dig (1952), and Else Holmelund Minarik's Little Bear series. The first title he wrote and illustrated himself, Kenny's Window, published in 1956, was a moody, dreamlike story about a lonely boy's inner life.

Despite its wild popularity, Mr. Sendak's work was not always well received. Some early reviews of Where the Wild Things Are expressed puzzlement and outright unease. Writing in Ladies' Home Journal, the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim took Mr. Sendak to task for punishing Max: "The basic anxiety of the child is desertion," Mr. Bettelheim wrote. "To be sent to bed alone is one desertion, and without food is the second desertion." (Mr. Bettelheim admitted that he had not actually read the book.)

In the 1970s, Mr. Sendak began designing sets and costumes for adaptations of his own work and, eventually, the work of others. His first venture was Mr. Knussen's Wild Things, for which Mr. Sendak also wrote the libretto. Performed in a scaled-down version in Brussels in 1980, the opera had its full premiere four years later, to great acclaim, staged in London by the Glyndebourne Touring Opera.

With the theater director Frank Corsaro, he also created sets for several venerable operas, among them Mozart's Magic Flute, performed by the Houston Grand Opera in 1980, and Leos Janacek's Cunning Little Vixen for the New York City Opera in 1981. For the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Mr. Sendak designed sets and costumes for a 1983 production of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker; a film version was released in 1986.

Mr. Sendak's companion of a half-century, Eugene Glynn, a psychiatrist who specialized in the treatment of young people, died in 2007. No immediate family members survive.

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About  Maurice Sendak

Born:  1928 - Brooklyn, New York
Died:   2012 - Danbury, Connecticut
Known for:  fantasy animal children's book illustration

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Maurice Sendak