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Where the Wild Things Came From

Wild Things Days kicked off in New York today with the unveiling of original drawings and manuscripts by the author of Where The Wild Things Are.

Wild Things Original Cover

By Dean Stattmann

When Maurice Sendak sat down in 1955 to put the final touches on his illustrated book, Where the Wild Horses Are, he completed but a framework for the story it would later become. Now, over a half-century later, with Sendak’s award-winning children’s book just days away from its international film debut, Where the Wild Things Are is about to enter the next stage of its evolution. To celebrate, The Morgan Library and Museum in New York City is hosting an exhibition of Sendak’s original illustrations and manuscripts to highlight the creative process that gave birth to the 1963 best-seller.

Beneath the lofty stained-glass and fresco-clad ceiling of The Morgan’s majestic East Room, surrounded by three-tiered antique bookshelves bearing historic titles by Charles Darwin and Mark Twain, art lovers and Wild Things fanatics alike converged this morning to browse early drafts and preliminary sketches from Maurice Sendak’s 1963 children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are in an exhibition entitled Where the Wild Things Are: Original Drawings by Maurice Sendak.

Where the Wild Things Are uses minimal prose and compelling illustrations to tell the story of Max, an imaginative young boy, who is sent to his bedroom without dinner and consequently creates a magical world filled with fantastic creatures, or Wild Things, by simply setting his imagination free.

Of the 15 artifacts put on display, three seemed to garner particular attention. The first, a drawing of Max sailing away from a ferocious sea monster, reveals Sendak’s process of developing his characters from early tracing paper sketches to the images found in the book today. Another piece, a pencil-drawn scene excluded from the final published version, shows Max, having discarded his utensils, tucking into a bowl of spaghetti, poised on all fours atop the dinner table. But perhaps the most insightful of all the items on display is a two-page excerpt from Sendak’s notebook, which reveals profound details about his artistic process.

“Not only do we see Sendak’s work, we see him giving instructions to himself,” says curator Christine Nelson. One page bears the ballpoint scribbles of a later Where The Wild Horses Are manuscript, with a note from the author, “Drop this story for time being – I’m forcing it and it won’t be forced.” On the adjacent page, after attempting the current title in verse form, Sendak simply writes, “ALL BAD.”

The exhibition, organized in cooperation with Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum and Library, the official home of Sendak’s artifacts, is part of Wild Things Days, a two-month-long, Philadelphia-based series of events, exhibitions and activities based around Sendak’s work. The exhibition at The Morgan is the only event to take place in New York and will remain open until the end of Wild Things Days on Nov. 1.

Image: Preliminary drawing of dust jacket for Where the Wild Things Are. Pen and ink, watercolor. Copyright Maurice Sendak, 1963. All rights reserved. Courtesy of The Morgan Library and Museum.