Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Hmmm... What was Sendak thinking about when he created WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE?

A few months ago, a reader sent me a link that she'd know I'd be interested in... to an auction site that was auctioning a framed collage (collage might not be the right word) of three items. Here's the framed item, titled by the auction house "Sendak Drawing on Wild Things Proof Sheet W/Photograph."

Here's the unedited description from the auction house (retrieved today, Oct 2 2018):

Rare 1963 original ink drawing with added personal photograph on the promotion proof sheet for the first edition of "Where The Wild Things Are", signed and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
Original colored photograph was taken during The Childrens Book Confrence, University of Utah, Park City, Utah-1960 of Sendak with Morton Schindel (of Western Woods) and possibly Tomi Ungerer.
Original ink sketch and inscription by Sendak of Indian boy with feather inscribed and signed twice by Maurice Sendak.
*Photograph reveals a feather on each of the artist's heads.
The photograph of a young Morton Schindel (Weston Woods). Maurice Sendak and (believed to be) Tomi Ungerer.
Why each figure has a feather standing in their hair is unknown, but mimicked in Sendak's ink drawing of an Indian also with a single feather.
This proof sheet for WILD THINGS comes from the original first printing of the book (1963) as Sendak would have wanted to show off his latest project to Morton Schindel (Weston Woods).
Note the slight off registry along the bottom edge of the Wild Things image which was one of the initial problems Harper & Row had in printing the earliest known copies.

Here's an enlarged look at that end of the framed item:

And here's a blow up of the photo:

Fascinating, isn't it? If a scholar of Sendak's work finds additional information about this, I'd love to see it! What was Sendak thinking? What do you think about it? 


Unknown said...

I'm not a Sendak scholar, but here's what I know about the creation of Where the Wild Things Are. In the original draft, I believe it was "Where the Wild Horses Are," and Sendak stated in interviews, I think, that the design of the Wild Things themselves were based on memories of older relatives who scared him when he was a child, which I've always found interesting.

That said, as I know you know, Sendak has history of seeing "Indians" as a game rather than actual people, people who have been targets of genocide. There's the "I" section of Alligators All Around, and the kid/animal dressed up as an American Indian in the costume party section of...oh, hell, the last book he wrote...Bumbleardy (I had to look it up). Remember when that came out, it precipitated a long argument on the Children's Lit listserv with actual grown people who should, in my opinion, know better, insisting that white kids "playing Indian" was actually a way of "honoring" Native peoples? I remember that was one of the first political discussions on the listserv I got heavily involved in.

Ultimately, I adore Sendak, and his work has meant so much to me, that it deeply saddens me (and I can see how it would be enraging as well) that an artist of his caliber could not see beyond the typical, racist erasure and reduction of Native people, even at the end of his career. I think about how it would feel to me to find a beloved children's book writer scribbling down whimsical pictures of children dressed up as Jews, and it turns my stomach.


Frances Vitali said...

Steve Brezzo, artist, performer, writer, curator, producer, art consultant, worked with Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) in creating the Maurice Sendak Memorial Exhibition ("Where the Wild Things Were"). Mr. Brezzo may be a candidate to ask about this reference.

Appreciatively, frances Vitali

Kirk Edward Smith said...

I certainly hope Sendak will not follow Geisel and LE Wilder as being exemplary dead children’s book icons who weren’t “woke” enough for less than successful contemporary keepers of the latest cultural malady.

Sam Jonson said...

Here's some extra insight on the creation of Where the Wild Things Are for you, Veronica.