November 17, 2017

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Philadelphia Museum and Library Loses Maurice Sendak Collection

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Untitled and undated “Fantasy Sketch.” Pen and ink. © 1952-1957 by Maurice Sendak.
Used with permission of the Estate of Maurice Sendak. Courtesy of the Rosenbach Museum & Library.

The Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia will be losing the bulk of its popular Maurice Sendak collection, says Patrick Rodgers, curator of the collection, beginning in October 2014. The collection contains over 10,000 pieces of Sendak’s work, which will be returned to the Maurice Sendak Foundation. According to Rodgers, the returned materials will be displayed in a new museum in Ridgefield, CT, where Sendak lived.

“I worked with this collection for seven-and-a-half years now—so of course I’ll be sad to see it go,” says Rodgers.

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The Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, PA. Source: Wikimedia. Photo by davidt8.

Sendak, the preeminent children’s illustrator and author of Where the Wild Things Are (Harper & Row, 1963), started depositing his artwork and manuscripts at the museum in 1968 after a visit two years earlier during which he discovered the works of a number of writers he admired, including Herman Melville, Charles Dickens, and William Blake. Sendak felt a “literary kinship,” to the museum, states Rodgers, and saw it as a good place for his work to be exhibited.

However, it was always understood that the materials belonged to the artist’s estate. According to his will, filed in Fairfield County, CT, Sendak left the collection to his eponymous foundation, and makes clear his wish to establish a museum in his Ridgefield home: “It is my wish that the Maurice Sendak Foundation Inc. operate said property as a museum or similar facility, to be used by scholars, students, artists, illustrators and writers.”

After Sendak passed away in 2012, Rodgers knew it was only a matter of time his museum would have to let the Sendak collection go.

Leonard Marcus, a leading authority on children’s books—who has made use of the collection at the Rosenbach in his own work—hopes the foundation plans to create a gallery space for curated shows of the illustrator’s work and provide tours of Sendak’s house.

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1968 at Lake Mohonk, NY. Icon image of the Rosenbach’s current exhibition ‘Sendak in the 60’s’ which closes on November 2. Copyright Nancy Crampton. All Rights Reserved.Courtesy of the Rosenbach Museum & Library.

“It’s exciting to be able to see the place that an artist chose to spend [his] time in. And [Sendak’s] house was already a sort of museum filled with art and books by people he most revered from the past.” Marcus had visited his house in the past when interviewing the artist.

Meanwhile, the Philadephia museum may see a decrease in visitors with the loss of the collection, but Rodgers says he’s hoping to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“Our work going forward is going to be convincing everybody that there is still great stuff [at the museum]. We’re not dead yet.”

He further emphasizes that many of the works that inspired Sendak and convinced him to place his work at the Rosenbach are still at the museum, including John Tenniel’s artwork for Alice in Wonderland, James Joyce’s original manuscript of Ulysses, and the original notes for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

In addition, there remains approximately 600 works by Sendak that the museum owns through purchases and donations. This includes the only wallpaper Sendak ever designed and the original drawings Sendak made while he was in high school to illustrate a physics textbook—his first paid gig.

The other more than 10,000 pieces of material that belong to the Maurice Sendak Foundation will start being removed in batches from the museum this month, says Rodgers, and will take a few months for the process to be complete.

“At the end of the day Maurice had fantastic collections up at his home. So whatever [the Maurice Sendak Foundation is] able to build, if they have all that artwork there, as long as it’s going to do Sendak… justice, I’ll still be happy with that,” he declares.

The current Sendak exhibit, “Sendak in the Sixties,” will remain on view at the Rosenbach until November 2.


Cesar R. Bustamante, Jr. is a multimedia journalist with a special interest in visual storytelling and data visualization. Follow him @crbustamante.

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