For a sparse 338 words published in 1963, Maurice Sendak’s visual stunner “Where the Wild Things Are” is one of the most highly acclaimed and best-loved children’s books of all time. The book won the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1964 and has sold over 20 million copies worldwide.
In 2013, like so many of us who grew up with a copy of “Where the Wild Things Are” with its shiny gold seal on the cover, the book turned 50 prompting the traveling Maurice Sendak Memorial Exhibition “50 Works, 50 Years, 50 Reasons.” It took a few years but this very special exhibition has finally arrived upon our shores and is currently occupying the Holmes Gallery at the Vero Beach Museum of Art. Step inside and you’ll find these walls really do become the world all around, a world of magnificent imagery that so very Sendak.
In a 1966 profile of the author by Nat Hentoff for The New Yorker Sendak says this about his artistic style:
“Being defenseless is a primary element of childhood. It’s not that I don’t see the naturalistic beauty of a child. I’m very aware of that beauty, and I could draw it. I know the proportions of a child’s body. But I am trying to draw the way children feel—or, rather, the way I imagine they feel. It’s the way I know I felt as a child.”
The exhibit’s design is an undeniable tribute to that statement. The enormity of the wall murals exemplifies Sendak’s explanation of proportion and reminds us of the smallness of childhood and may even inspire a memory or two of what it was like when the world was bigger and time was longer. Perhaps that’s why so many are smitten with the story of Max and his wild rumpus. We talked with some of the people who have the good fortune of being part of Vero Beach Museum of Art during this extraordinary exhibition and the impact of “Where the Wild Things Are” in their own lives.
Pam Sommers, Manager of Youth and Family programs shared that “the story of Max reminds me that our wildest imagination is our most powerful tool for creativity. Sendak’s work is sparking the imagination of all the visitors who are coming to see the show and I think the result of that is empowering children and adults to think creatively.”
Danielle Johnson, the museum’s Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art revealed that her first memory of “Where the Wild Things Are” is of her mother reading it to her when she was just 4 or 5 years old. “We read all the Caldecott Winners together, but this was a favorite” she said.
Sophie Bentham-Wood, Director of Marketing and Communications gave the book as a gift to her daughter and said that even while she enjoyed re-reading the classic tale "it was to witness the story through the eyes of her child that made it so magical."
The Maurice Sendak Memorial Exhibition will be ongoing at the Vero Beach Museum of Art until December 30, 2017 and features original illustrations from the book, interactive kid-friendly features including a wild rumpus room, Max’s private boat and a limited-edition bronze sculpture known as “Max and the Sea Monster.” In addition to “Wild Things” displays and original works the exhibition also includes a selection of works from the many other picture books that Sendak illustrated throughout his 60-year career, such as the classics In the Night Kitchen and Little Bear.
Sendak once said “Children do live in fantasy and reality; they move back and forth very easily in a way we no longer remember how to do.”
Perhaps that’s true but spend a little time taking in this colorful, larger than life exhibit and you might find that you do remember how, even if it’s just for an hour or two!