His creative artwork is a perfect example of how influential exceptional picture books can be in cultivating art appreciation for little ones. In high school, I was constantly drawn to the detailed floral beauty of William Morris textiles, as well as the pen and ink cross-hatch style of Edward Gorey’s illustrations. I sometimes wonder if my early exposure and fascination with Maurice Sendak's art had anything to do with forming my future tastes.
|Richly detailed Sendak illustrations can be found in|
Dear Mili, by Wilhelm Grimm (more photos here - source)
Other than having taken a few night classes in art after high school graduation, Sendak was basically a self-taught artist. This talent, combined with his admiration for Walt Disney’s Fantasia - which he saw at the age of twelve - inspired Sendak to pursue a career where he could utilize his artistic abilities.
From Window Dresser to Wild Thing Creator
Here are some interesting facts and trivia about this very gifted man...
- Before he wrote and illustrated books, Maurice Sendak was commissioned as a window dresser for F.A.O. Schwarz.
- His first-ever illustrated book was a 1947 science textbook, Atomics for the Millions, co-written by his high school biology teacher. If you're lucky enough to come across the first edition of this collector’s item in a used bookstore, grab it! (Click here to see images from the book).
- Maurice Sendak's Caldecott Medal winning book, Where the Wild Things Are, published in 1963, is one of the top ten bestselling children's books of all time, about a mischievous boy named Max, his imaginary wild friend-things, and their rumpus in the forest. It was originally conceived as "Where the Wild Horses Are", but Sendak told People Magazine, "I couldn't draw horses." (go here to read my past post about the 50th Anniversary of Wild Things.)
- Another bit of information many may not be aware of, is that Sendak (at J.R.R. Tolkien’s request) submitted two illustrations for The Hobbit's 30th Anniversary Edition in the late 1960's. There was a bit of a mix-up and mislabeling of the artwork samples, so Tolkien did not approve the drawings. The two men never did talk in person, because the day the publisher had scheduled their meeting, Sendak suffered a heart attack. You can read more here about "the 1960's masterpiece that could have been", in this LA Times guest essay by Tony Di'Terlizzi.
- In the late 1970's Sendak began a second career designing sets for ballets and operas (both stage and television productions). His chief musical passion was always Mozart.
- Sendak described his books as stories "about human emotion and life. They’re pigeonholed as children's books, but the best ones aren't -- they're just books". (From a People Magazine interview in 2003.)
What is your favorite book by Maurice Sendak?