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Maurice Sendak: Architect of Fantastic Lands

An architect of fantastic lands and sprightly stories, Maurice Sendak was a renowned children’s book author and illustrator whose work has stirred the souls of millions. Sendak lived and worked in a duplex apartment at 29 West Ninth Street from 1962 until 1972 with his life partner, psychoanalyst Eugene Glynn. It was there he wrote Where the Wild Things Are, winner of the Caldecott Medal and gem of American children’s literature. Sendak’s life and work are celebrated in Village Preservation’s public outdoor exhibition, VILLAGE VOICES 2022.

Maurice Sendak exhibit at 29 West 9th Street

Born in Brooklyn in 1928, Sendak’s sickly childhood largely confined him to his bed. However, he found he could be transported far from reality through books he read. He decided to become an illustrator and author, seeking to elucidate the marvelous contradictions of children’s inner worlds. Among his many renowned works are Kenny’s Window (1956), In the Night Kitchen (1970), and We Are All in the Dumps with Jack, and Guy (1993).

Sendak’s self-portrait

Sendak’s work often followed unrestrained children as they adventured through fantastic realms. Unwittingly they tangled themselves in webs of mischief, but eventually they always found their way back to serenity. His protagonists’ conundrums were often philosophical, illuminating internal issues of love and loneliness or external problems of rejection and cruelty. In lovingly depicting children as wide-eyed vagabonds with legitimate dilemmas, Sendak granted validity to their wild imaginations while expressing solidarity with their wondrous uncertainty. 

Maurice Sendak’s books skillfully juggle the boundless light and deepest darkness of our childhood fantasies. In writing them, he urged us to nurture the child in us all, reminding us that there is sorrow speckling every moment of bliss and beauty in every chaotic, wild rumpus.

Sendak began a second career as a costume and stage designer in the late 1970s, designing operas that included Krása’s Brundibar, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges, and Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, as well as Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker. He also designed the sets and costumes, as well as wrote the book and lyrics, for the musical production of Really Rosie.

Sendak’s set and costumes for The Nutcracker

Maurice Sendak remains the most honored children’s book artist in history. Along with the 1964 Caldecott Medal, he was the recipient of the 1970 Hans Christian Andersen Award, the 1983 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and the 2003 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. In 1996 President Bill Clinton presented him with the National Medal of Arts in recognition of his contribution to the arts in America.

The life and work of Maurice Sendak will be on display from September 18 – October 30 as part of our 2022 Annual outdoor interactive public art exhibition: VILLAGE VOICES. Our exhibition features an engaging installation of exhibits displayed throughout our neighborhoods featuring photographs, artifacts, and recorded narration that provides entertaining and illuminating insight into the momentous heritage of the Village.

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