Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Wild Thing is Dead. Long-live the Wild Thing.

 I left space for a caption over my head... but still, I have no words.

It  might seem obvious to anyone who knows me, but Maurice Sendak is my hero.  Like few other illustrators, he has had a huge influence on my art style and my persistence.

I remember reading about his life and learning that most of his childhood was spent in bed, recovering, and drawing. A lot of my childhood was also spent in hospitals, waiting rooms, bed and other really boring, lonely places. My mother and I would hand a drawing back and forth between us adding weird little bits and trying to outdo each other. (She also read me Agatha Christie stories!)

Sendak was the Commencement speaker at RISD when I finally graduated. I thought my heart would burst from happiness. And yet I had no idea what to say to him.
Sendak's stories are all so creepy and sad, but that's what is so appealing to me - and other kids. He knew what we were feeling and what we were worrying about and then turned it all into characters and magical places we could understand.

I waited in line for over an hour. Again, I had no idea what to say. In my head, I was thinking "I want to do this! (make books that people love and will stand in line just to have me scribble in them)."
As a parent, reading the stories to my son, I was hit by all the "realities" of his stories. All the things I just accepted as a child, I suddenly noticed as being sad, as an adult. For example... in Higglety-Pigglety-Pop... as a kid, I understood that Jennie, the dog, wanted more out of life and was willing to give up everything to have an adventure. When she died, I cried (I still do), but it was all part of the story and her adventure. After all, she finally gets what she wants, in the end. As an adult, I can't help but over analyze and feel depressed. I bet there are a few of you who have only read this book as an adult who may be thinking, "What does she mean, the dog dies?!"

I painted this scene in my living room, 14 years ago, and I've used it as  a growth chart for my kids and family members.

 Sendak, my imaginary mentor, cleared the path for weird, sickly kids with overactive imaginations! Hee hee. I am very grateful that I was able to meet him and that he lived such a long and interesting life. He is immortal through his art and his stories. But he will be missed.

The leaves on the vine mark my son's growth, and the little flowers mark my daughter's. Ladybugs are for other friends and family. You can see how I stopped painting in the vine, and all my daughter's flowers are unpainted too. Bad mommy. For her fifth birthday, Lilah found the Sharpie and measured herself! "11-66-2011" Close enough (11-26-2011).

There is a great article in the New York Times if you would like to read more about Maurice Sendak's life.


  1. When we lose a mentor, we must pull all our learning close in to comfort us. Sendak will be missed by generations of adults and children.

    For some great recent articles on Sendak, google NPR+Sendak. They re-ran a great 2003 interview, with updates from just before he passed.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and drawings with us!

  2. The drawing is perfect. The empty space gives a place for thoughts and feeling - the kind words don' t express. Children and adults need that open space above our heads for memories, thoughts, and all the variety of feelings we have when things happen. Your illustration honors that space

  3. i have folloed your blog for a long time yet did not know we share a love of Maurice Sendak. I am also a fan of Terri, whose show "Fresh Air" is on NPR. I heard all of her interviews in real time as they aired over th eyears. She is wonderful and her love and respect for MS come through as he interviewed him. Whem he passed away on Tues, NPR bundled all of Terri's interviews w/ MS and here is the link. I am sure you will learn much about him and enjoy his candor as much as I.
    there are audio links for all the interviews

  4. Sandy, thank you for this beautiful, personal tribute to your hero. I read about his passing in our paper, and was saddened, but I read your post and am deeply moved. I love how you called him your imaginary mentor, as well as your hero. I have imaginary mentors, too.

    I know exactly what you mean about being so eager to meet someone...yet having no idea what to say. It's a strange juxtaposition of anticipation, excitement, awkwardness, and anxiousness.

    Of course I own a copy of Where the Wild Things Are, but I am not familiar with Maurice Sendak's other work. Now I must go find and read those books!

    I agree with SueK about your drawing and the empty words are necessary.

  5. I studied where the wild things are in college for library science. At the time the book was quite controversial. An interesting observation is the reason children were not afraid of the wild things is because the creatures never look you in the eye. They are always looking to the side. It was a favorite book for my children and now my grandchild. I am also sadden by the loss.

  6. What a wonderful tribute to a legend in his own time. As an educator, artist and parent, I've loved his work ever since I became acquainted with it in the mid 1980's. I've read his books for years to droves of students and to both of my girls when they were growing up; I've been inspired by his artwork in many occasions; and I even dressed up as Max for children's story character day several years ago. It is a sad day. Blessings, Sandy.

  7. Diane - that is very interesting about the monsters not looking us in the eye! I had noticed that without actually noting it. Max is very brave and not afraid to look the monsters in the eye.

  8. Pierre finally said,"I care!" a good caption:)


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