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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.


A Lot to Learn From Pete Hamill

By Dean Stattmann

In Esquire’s “Meaning of Life” issue, published in January of this year, the magazine invited one representative from each state to share pieces of what they had learned over the course of their lives. The feature was made up entirely of their responses and interviewees ranged from Clint Eastwood (78, California) to Evander Hollyfield (46, Georgia), making for a insightful and diverse collection. But with just Shepard Smith (44, Mississippi) and Esquire’s Chuck Klosterman (36, North Dakota) holding it down on the writers’ front, I thought that the feature could have used another word man (and anyone other than Paris Hilton to represent New York). So who better to have share his wisdom than famed author and newspaperman, Pete Hamill (73, New York).

Memory is crucial to the writing game.

My brain had been shaped by comic books, and with writing I was able to deal with sequence, with narrative. I was able to tell a story.

I love talking to musicians, because music to me is the highest art.

In my experience, generally if you try to do too much, you’re going to be ordinary at all of it. It’s about being honest with yourself about the thing you’re really good at. Give it every God damn thing you have.

When you’re first starting, you’re under the influence of the writers you admire the most.

I’d take a paragraph from Joseph Conrad about a storm at sea and I’d convert it to a winter storm on land. And I’d change it, sentence by sentence. You’re learning how to structure that paragraph.

You’re not a prisoner of where you were born. You’re not trapped in your childhood. You can make yourself in a city like this.

The Irish were trained by the Brits to eat food as a sort of punishment.

Every immigrant wave brings something new to the conversation – what I call the common language.

I went to Mexico City College, where they supported G.I.s. I went there wanting to be a painter.

I wanted to be a writer after nine months.

You have to make mistakes.

I was wandering around Brooklyn last summer and I didn’t see any kids playing in the streets. I worry that they’re having virtual childhoods instead of childhoods.

Work will come first because it’s the engine of your life.

I was never happier than during those three or four years as a newspaperman.

It’s sometimes hard to separate the lifestyle from the work. I had a sort of discipline. I never drank when I was writing or reporting. I drank in celebration, when the day was over.

In my case I was able to always squeeze enough out of my talent.

The key is, if you go out for a good time and you don’t learn anything, don’t do it again.

One of the problems with alcohol is it’s a lot of fun.

I haven’t had a drink in 36 years.

I don’t know the Bronx very well because I hated the Yankees growing up as a child.

I liked the 50s. I was young in the 50s.

When you come to Manhattan from Brooklyn, you think you know everything. The truth is you don’t know a damn thing.

When I’m on the subway and there’s a 75-year-old lady, I try imagine her when she was 12. I look at her and try see what’s left of her childhood on her face.

You don’t know if you can write a novel until you write one.

I think that the New York of the last 10 years has been a great version of itself.

Don’t get married. wait until you’re 30, wait until you have 3,000 bylines, wait until you’ve covered a war.

You have to make sure you’re falling in love with the person, and not the notion of falling in love.

North River Check out Pete Hamill’s latest novel, North River.

“Hamill is at his best when he writes about his city. He knows New York present and past, and he is able to make us taste the early-20th-century time frame of North River.”

– The New York Times Sunday Book Review

Pete Hamill was interviewed on April 9, 2009

Photo Essay: Hudson Piers
April 7, 2009, 11:35 pm
Filed under: New York, Photography | Tags: , , , , ,

By Dean Stattmann


Step Into My Office






Connection Delayed

TributeCenterBy Dean Stattmann

It was a typical sunny Tuesday afternoon in Johannesburg, South Africa as I stepped off the school bus and onto the sidewalk in front of my house. Another strenuous day in the eighth grade had passed, and I was ready to relax. I walked through the garden, my backpack already on just one shoulder, and into the living room. As usual, I put all my stuff down on the floor and then went to the kitchen to get some lunch. After returning to the living room, I flopped down on the big black leather sofa and began eating from a bowl of noodles as I flipped through the channels, looking up at the big television screen in front of me. I remember how tedious it was navigating through the channels back then. We had satellite TV and there must have been at least 300 stations trying to get my attention every time I turned the thing on. That day was no different. I remember clicking through the cartoons, the food networks, the travel channels, the music videos, the breaking news and the sitcom reruns – all to no avail. At some point my mother called me. She asked me about my day and then mentioned that I should watch the news – something about a bomb. As I backtracked to CNN, I remember seeing something along the way that caught my eye, deciding to come back to it afterwards. When the news came onto the screen, it was exactly what I had expected – news. It seemed like the same news that was on every other day – intangible events in places I had never been, and most likely would never go. The banner across the bottom of the screen said something about trade but I wasn’t really paying attention. I raised my hand towards the screen, my fingers still clutching the remote control, and I changed the channel. That day was September 11, 2001.

On March 5, 2009, I stood in the winter garden bordering the West side of the World Trade Center site. Pressed up against the large glass window, I listened to the verbal accounts of people who lost loved ones that day. I was on a tour. The WTC Tribute Center on Liberty St. was offering unguided audio tours, and today I was here with my college journalism class. Looking out onto the baron 16-acre site, I tried to imagine the towers, the signature of a New York that I would never see. I attempted to visualize them, 110 floors above the ground, bustling with over 50,000 employees from hundreds of companies. I looked around, trying to find a structure of similar scale so I could at least have some kind of reference. Nothing came close.

Then I thought about September 11. Right around the time I put my noodles in the microwave, a plane traveling at over 400 miles per hour ripped into the ninety-third floor of the North tower, killing 1,365 people on impact. Seventeen minutes later, as I searched aimlessly for something entertaining to watch, another plane mimicked the first, this time with the North tower in its sights. At over 500 miles per hour, it turned floors 77 through 85 into a smoke-filled inferno, leaving only the outline of the plane stamped onto the side of the building, the way cartoon characters get slammed into the ground. Within a half hour, the North tower had been reduced to a smoldering pile of rubble, flattening out in twelve seconds.

And then the scariest realization of all: If I had been standing in this exact spot on that same Tuesday, I would be dead. The force of the collapsing towers shattered the windows of every single one of the surrounding buildings, destroying most of them. The newly renovated winter garden in which I was standing was unrecognizable on September 11. The voice coming through my headphones poured out scores of statistics about deaths, casualties… body parts. After a while, they just felt like empty numbers, like people without faces. I later researched those numbers and found that almost every source, from CNN to New York magazine, had different figures. They say that the death of one is a tragedy and the death of millions is a statistic. I find it tragic that there isn’t a definitive statistic.

After the tour, I still felt detached from the events of September 11. I had definitely learnt a lot, but I just didn’t feel it the way I thought I would. It was only afterwards, during a brief walk through the WTC Tribute Center, that it hit me, hard. Displayed modestly against a plain white wall, stood a mangled steel beam – formerly part of one of the towers – that had been removed from the rubble. The sign said not to touch but if this wasn’t going to make the events of that day tangible then nothing was. When I put my hand on the oxidized steel, it occurred to me that this was my first contact with a day that has consumed the lives of thousands of families for the last eight and a half years. Even though it wasn’t my fault, I felt guilty, almost disgusted by my ignorance. I wanted to help someone or at least do something, but it was too late.

My trip to ground zero consumed my thoughts for the rest of the day. I tried to think about how this could have been avoided. I tried to imagine losing someone I loved. I tried to comprehend what the fuck would drive someone to do something like this. I came up with nothing. But one thing I couldn’t shake was my admiration for New York City and its ability to move on. If I learned anything from that day, it’s that no matter what, things will happen in life that are outside of our control. Sometimes we’ll like them, and sometimes we won’t. But when tragedy inevitably strikes, all we can do deal with it the best way we can, and then move on.

The Bowery Mission: Faith, Brotherhood and the American Dream

A helping hand

By Dean Stattmann

New York is a city where even the wildest dreams can come true. It is also a city in which 100,000 people experience homelessness each year. And one step into the Bowery Mission will teach you that it doesn’t take a lot to go from one to the other.

Humbly situated at 227 Bowery, nestled in between Stanton and Rivington Streets, is the Bowery Mission, an organization that has offered a helping hand to New York City’s less fortunate for over 130 years.

Providing help and resources along every step of the way to recovery, the Bowery Mission has truly taken the problems of homelessness and addiction in New York City into it’s own welcoming hands. Beyond accommodation (Participants in rehabilitation programs can stay as long as one year), the Mission also provides three cooked meals a day, computer learning services, employment resources and most importantly, a safe, friendly environment that encourages recovery and total rehabilitation.

Bowery Mission chef Marshall Beatty makes sure to include all the vital food groups in his dishes
Bowery Mission chef Marshall Beatty makes sure to include all the vital food groups in his dishes

“We’re here as a beacon of light,” says James Macklin, Director of Outreach at the Bowery Mission. Macklin – himself an alumnus of the Mission’s rehabilitation program – found himself in need of such a beacon when he lost his business to cocaine in the early 80s. He came to the Bowery Mission with nowhere else to go.

Fortunately, the Mission, which has since moved from its former location on Canal Street, has devised a rehabilitation program that has its residents hopeful that a better tomorrow is around the corner.

“We believe that rehabilitation comes from a change of the heart,” says Macklin. “You have to change the way people perceive themselves, you have to change their perception of life and then you start them off on a brand new track.” By new track, he is of course referring to one of faith.

James Macklin, Director of Outreach at the Bowery Mission
James Macklin, Director of Outreach at the Bowery Mission

Religion is a key component at the Mission – which hosts three mandatory prayer sessions daily – and many of its residents attribute their recovery in part to discovering a spiritual side to them that they never knew existed. One graduate of the program, Steve Zakrzewski, was the Senior Vice President of one of the largest quality services organizations in the world before crossing the line with alcohol.

“AA didn’t work for me,” says Zakrzewski. “I realized at that point that I needed a long-term program. A social worker at the hospital told me about the bowery mission and they got me a bed. I came here and life was completely different from that point on.”

Zakrzewski is grateful for all the help the Bowery Mission has provided him with, but more so for introducing him to his Savior.

The chapel, where daily prayer sessions are held
The chapel, where daily prayer sessions are held

Another success story goes by the name of Kiki Adebola, a Nigerian immigrant who came to New York in the early 80s in search of the American Dream.

“I used to house soldiers and G.I.s in Nigeria,” Adebola says. “I used to show them where to get the weed and the girls. That’s how I was introduced to American people.”

After arriving in New York and enrolling at a college in Brooklyn, Adebola had a prosperous future ahead of him, until his addiction to crack cocaine got the better of him.

“First I was in control of it, but as time went on, it flipped the script on me and I became a slave to it,” he says. “Drugs will take you places that you really don’t want to go, they will cost you more than you would like to pay and they will keep you longer than you’d like to stay.”

Adebola stayed with his addiction for eight years, living on the streets of New York and “hustling” tourists just to stay alive. It was only when he met Macklin that he realized that life could be different.

The Bowery Mission Helped Kiki Adebola find the American Dream
The Bowery Mission Helped Kiki Adebola find the American Dream

Listening to the testimonies of these individuals, one cannot ignore their repeated referral to one another as “brother,” as if they were members of a fraternity. In fact, they even refer to the Mission as “the house.” This is the product of an undeniable sense of brotherhood that fills the hallways of the Bowery Mission.

Nobody can save themselves from the kind of perils that are carried through the Mission’s iconic red doors each day, and strength through brotherhood is the only way to win when the stakes are human lives. Thankfully, that is a hand that graduates of the Bowery Mission will not have to play.

“The American dream talks about a house, car, wife and kids – I have all that,” says Adebola. “The only thing I don’t have is a dog named Bingo and a cat named Fluffy.”

Helping New York's homeless for 130 years

Photos by Dean Stattmann

Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary
December 5, 2008, 3:36 am
Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , ,


Next time you toss out your plastic cutlery, you may as well be throwing away a priceless work of art. This is the theme at “Second Lives,” the inaugural exhibition of New York City’s Museum of Arts and Design.

Situated in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, towering over the hustle and bustle of Columbus Circle, the newly opened Museum of Arts and Design awaits the inevitable hordes of curious New Yorkers seeking out the new and different. At least they’ll be at the right place.

“Second Lives” is an exhibition that will take all your preconceptions of modern art and flip them upside down. Upon entering the museum’s fifth floor, visitors are confronted by a large body of silver text printed on a very white wall. Part of it reads, “the exhibition examines why artists around the globe choose the diverse materials they use in crafting their works and how these choices inform both the context and the viewer’s response.”

Next, you will either see a chair made of quarters, a mannequin constructed out of tiny puzzle pieces or a gigantic Buddha carved out of international phone books. If you haven’t noticed yet, paint and pastels aren’t welcome here.

One of the cornerstones of the exhibition is a pyramid, approximately seven feet high, made up entirely of white plastic spoons and red rubber bands. This is the work of British artist Jill Townsley, and it encompasses everything “Second Lives” aims to convey. The beauty of the piece lies not in its existence, explains a plaque on a nearby wall, but rather in its destruction. It goes on to explain that the spoons, which are typically recognized as culinary utensils, have been taken out of their original context, and are now associated with the construction of something beautiful. What’s more, when the rubber bands snap and the spoons come crashing to the ground, they will have lost their initial connotations altogether.

But not everyone is ready to accept the foreign logic of such an exhibition, and there will inevitably be those who turn up their noses to what could be perceived as a mockery of the arts. A prominent display is artist Johnny Swing’s “Quarter Lounge,” a curvaceous lounge chair made up predominantly of 25 cent pieces. The plaque quotes the artist: “I thought that sitting in something made from what normally clinks together in your pockets is altogether a bizarre new truth. If money is furniture, what then is the truth? That’s the question that lets you know something has been repurposed.” But not everyone reads the plaques.

“I’ve seen this before,” said one viewer standing in front of the chair. “I saw something just like this at an exhibition overseas years ago, a chair made out of coins. Well, anyone who calls himself Johnny Swing deserves a spanking anyway,” he scoffed as he turned on his heel and moved on to the next display. If only we were all so cultured.

Sun sets in the West
November 28, 2008, 3:51 am
Filed under: Photography | Tags: , ,