Maurice Sendak, artist and humanist, an expanded version

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A highly visual slideshow about the life and work of Maurice Sendak, with an emphasis on the roots of his art in the personality of his deeply unhappy man

A highly visual slideshow about the life and work of Maurice Sendak, with an emphasis on the roots of his art in the personality of his deeply unhappy man

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  • Dave - your slideshow are fantastic. I can't figure out the last one 'The Power of Negative Thinking' as I'm not an optic person....well maybe I am having got a degree and worked in biological oceanography in bio-optics (satellite remote sensing) long ago. Now I'm more in the health field and I've been trying to develop a slideshow about cholesterol and hope to share my really rough draft with you. As you'll see I'm trying to adopt your model as I think it'll best communicate a complicated subject and will help save lots of lives. If you can send me email is at , I'll forward it to you. Really love to get your feedback. Best, Eric
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  • Hi Eric - here is some more info. I have about 125 patents in my field of optics and have also published a lot. Every state-of-the art computer chip in the world today, in computer, cell phones, tablets, etc. is made using an optical system that I invented about 7 years ago. It is sort of like a giant camera lens that is about 4 feet long with lenses that are about 12 to 15 inches in diameter and it images the computer circuit patents onto silicon wafers. The shapes of the optical surfaces on the lenses are accurate to a few atoms (!!!) and each of these lens system sells for about $30 million. Many hundreds of these optical systems have been made over the last few years, by Carl Zeiss Optics in Germany.
    At work I spend all of my time designing complex optical systems like this, using a special lens design software program.

    - Dave
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  • Thanks Eric! I have many other talks posted at Slideshare, such as these -
    Richard Feynman, physicist/humanist - Nobel Prize winner, best selling author, colorful personality.

    Ernestine Rose – 19th century feminist/humanist - early woman’s rights advocate.

    Travel Photography Advice - useful and humorous advice on how to take better pictures during your vacations and travel.

    Photos Around The Home - useful and humorous advice on how to take interesting photos inside and outside your home.
    Competitive Photography Principles - useful and humorous advice on how to take winning photos in photography competitions.

    The Ark of the Covenant - history and speculations about the biblical Ark of the Covenant.

    Ancient Secret Codes and Wordplay in the Bible - hidden messages, real and imagined, in the bible. Prehistoric uses of the alphabet.

    Curious Mysteries of the Torah - An examination of several curious practices or references in the Torah (Old Testament), with interesting explanantions.
    There are others too on diverse topics. I have designed optical systems like telescopes, microscopes, camera lenses, etc. since 1966. One of my unusual telescope designs is on the Cassini spacecraft and is at Saturn now. I have been self employed for the last 33 years and mostly do work now for Carl Zeiss in Germany and Samsung in Korea and I travel to both several times a year.
    My main non-work passion is opera and I teach some courses on that. What are your interests?
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  • Hi Dave. Your presentations on Sendak, Wagner and Salk are amazing. Thank you for the good work. Where can I find out more about your overall work and career? Best, Eric
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  • 1. Maurice Sendak, artist and humanist Dave Shafer, CHJ
  • 2. Early life
  • 3. Maurice Sendak was born in a poor part of Brooklyn in 1928. Unlike Danny Kaye here he never had the upbeat personality of an extrovert. As a kid he was overweight, sometimes stuttered and never really “clicked” with most people.
  • 4. Maurice Sendak was an angry child and a morose adult. What were the origins of this? We cannot fully appreciate his art and accomplishments without some understanding of his personality.
  • 5. There are almost no photos available of the family or the childhood of Maurice. He was the son of Philip and Sadie Sendak. Born in 1928. Here we see mother Sadie, sister Natalie, 8 years older, brother Jack 6 years older, and baby Maurice.
  • 6. Maurice’s mother told him of hiding in a cellar during Cossack attacks on her small Jewish village in Poland. Young Maurice took note.
  • 7. Here are some of the very few early photos. His brother Jack, top left in group photo, served in the Pacific and his sister Natalie’s fiancé was killed in the war.
  • 8. Between the ages of 2 and 4 Maurice suffered from measles, double pneumonia, and scarlet fever. He rarely left the house. “I’m a typical ’30s kid,’' he said in a 1988 Times interview. '‘We had every disease. There was no penicillin, there were no sulfa drugs, and you almost died of any number of what now are considered trivial diseases. I have a memory of my childhood of often wondering about my mortality.’'
  • 9. As a young child Maurice was spooked by many things. He was terrified of vacuum cleaners.
  • 10. There was a whole interesting world outside and Maurice was pretty much confined to his room.
  • 11. Sendak’s family kept kosher. Across the hall from his apartment was a Sicilian family – a boisterous fun loving group with great food and he sometimes visited them. Young Maurice naively thought that they were a different sect of Jews from his own family and was determined to join that more appealing Jewish sect when he grew up.
  • 12. A sickly child in a family with frequent moves, Maurice had few friends and spent much time by himself, drawing and reading comic books. He loved Mickey Mouse and the Disney movie Fantasia. Later he felt that Disney had changed Mickey and had given his early rough edges to Donald Duck and that Mickey had become much too bland.
  • 13. His drawing style was very influenced by seeing Laurel and Hardy movies and Busby Berkeley musicals. He was very angry about his parents’ silence about how all his aunts and uncles in Poland were killed in the Holocaust. He came to feel that parents should be truthful with children and this was a major aspect of his many books.
  • 14. Sendak directly addressed some of the fears and anxieties of childhood. “I think it is unnatural to think that there is such a thing as a blue-sky, whiteclouded happy childhood for anybody. Childhood is a very, very tricky business of surviving it. Because if one thing goes wrong or anything goes wrong, and usually something goes wrong, then you are compromised as a human being. You’re going to trip over that for a good part of your life.”
  • 15. "They (children) have written to me. They trust me in a way, I daresay, possibly more than they trust their parents. I'm not going to bullshit them. I'm just not. And if they don't like what they hear, that's tough bananas."
  • 16. Maurice felt from a very early age that the world was a scary and dangerous place. Although he was only 3 ½ when the little Lindbergh baby was kidnapped, he later claimed to have vivid memories of that time as well as the effect on him when the baby was discovered dead.
  • 17. “As a kid, all I thought about was death. But you can't tell your parents that.”
  • 18. “I am not a religious person, nor do I have any regrets”
  • 19. We don’t know when Maurice came of the closet (to himself) but we know that he took very great pains for years to hide from his parents that he was gay.
  • 20. A brief digressionSexual attraction between two people has obviously been around a long time. Romantic love? Not so much. The idea of romantic love is completely 100% absent from the most ancient literatures of the Near East and Mediterranean – Egypt, Sumer, Babylonian, Canaan, Crete, etc. It was introduced to this part of the world by invading Indo-Europeans from elsewhere. It immediately caught on, about 1500 B.C., and from then on it permeates the literatures of Egypt, Greece, Israel, etc. We might well speculate, as did the 17th century French sage the Duke of Rochefoucauld, that: ‘There are people who would have never fallen in love if they never heard of love.” This seems to have been true for whole civilizations.
  • 21. Maurice’s partner for 50 years was Dr. Eugene Glynn, a psychoanalyst. He wrote a book on art and psychoanalysis. Maurice never told his parents he was gay and said “All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy. They never, never, never knew.“ Or at least he thought so. “Finding out that I was gay when I was older was a shock and a disappointment”
  • 22. It is quite ironic that Maurice was so angry at his parents for withholding the truth from him about events of World War II and the presence of evil and danger in the world, when he was young, and went out of his way to be honest in his children’s books, and yet he took great pains for decades to conceal his gay identity from his parents. If children can handle the truth, shouldn’t parents be able to as well?
  • 23. Finally, Maurice was an early atheist and that was very much not a mainstream identity, especially back when he was a young man.
  • 24. Sendak suffered from depression and took some solace from the poetry of Emily Dickenson, which he said got him through some rough patches. Van Gogh’s painting of an old man here was new to me and shows despair.
  • 25. Professional life
  • 26. In 1947 Maurice got a part time job doing store windows at F.A.O. Schwarz.
  • 27. In 1947 when he was 19 Maurice got a job drawing illustrations for a popular science book. His drawing style was still evolving.
  • 28. In the 1950’s Sendak illustrated books written by others. Much later, when these were re-issued, he got credit on the cover, like this example. These illustrations had none of the energy and edge of later books where he wrote the text too. 1951
  • 29. 1951 1955
  • 30. 1956 This was the first book where Sendak both wrote and illustrated the text. He was fortunate to have some editors who recognized his talent and supported his early career.
  • 31. 1957 He illustrated a series of popular “Little Bear” books 1959
  • 32. Sendak’s older brother Jack, here on the right, wrote two children’s books and Maurice illustrated those, as well as one book that his father wrote.
  • 33. Steady work came when Sendak got a job with All-American Comics
  • 34. Maurice’s job was to draw backgrounds in the Mutt and Jeff comics
  • 35. 1952 Sendak continued to illustrate many books written by others, which limited his creative range.
  • 36. Maurice took courses at New York’s Art Student League, at night. There are many famous alumni in its 138 year history.
  • 37. Sendak’s career breakout point came with his 1963 book that he also wrote. It deals very directly with childhood fears.
  • 38. Child psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim was all in favor of telling children scary Grimm’s fairy tales but still thought that Sendak’s book was too strong for young children. Since then tens of millions of copies have been sold.
  • 39. Originally Sendak planned to have the “wild things” be wild horses but then he discovered that he could not draw horses. So he changed it to wild “things” (monsters). The Yiddish expression “Vilde Khaye” means “wild things” - especially wild children and Maurice’s mother would sometimes call him that. That is where he got the book title from.
  • 40. In 1966 when he illustrated a book by Isaac Singer his parents felt that he had finally made it.
  • 41. But soon, in 1967, disaster struck – his mother developed cancer, he had a major heart attack at the age of 39, and his beloved dog Jenny died. In spite of that he produced “In The Night Kitchen” in 1972. This was another major success and also one of the most frequently banned books by librarians, because the main character, a little boy, is shown in full frontal nudity. Some librarians drew diapers on the boy. Lighten up, people!
  • 42. Children have long known that there are differences between boys and girls, so who is the librarian protecting by drawing diapers on a nude boy? Adults?
  • 43. In entertainment and advertising showing child nudity seems to be acceptable as long as certain of what the British call “the naughty bits” are not shown.
  • 44. There is a theory of evolution that says that the transition from ape to early man is marked by when the male switched to striding with the right leg forward (to conceal the naughty bits). All text books show that early man walked this way.
  • 45. Maurice Sendak would have none of this tiptoeing around Everyone knows what a nude little boy looks like and in “The Night Kitchen” he simply did not shirk from it. Good for him!
  • 46. In 1987 PBS had a 6 minute animated film made based on Sendak’s art work in the book. It was the work of the Czech based film maker Gene Deitch, who had long walks with Sendak in Prague to discuss the project. The result, which we will see now, captures well the surreal quality of a child’s imagination that is shown in the book. Sendak said that the Hitler-esque characters and their attempt to bake the boy in an oven were Holocaust references He also told Deitch that the book reflects his own relationship to his parents, his own inner life, the birth of his fantasy life and his homosexuality.
  • 47. 6 minute animated film
  • 48. . Sendak freely acknowledged his influence debt to sources like the 1905 Little Nemo Sunday comic strip.
  • 49. Sendak had many years of therapy. His long time partner was a psychoanalyst. Maurice was basically a very unhappy self-absorbed personality.
  • 50. A happy moment. Sendak moved from New York City to Ridgefield, CT in 1972. He worked long hours and had an isolated life. He was shy and did not like crowds.
  • 51. “Posters and other occasional pieces make up a very small part of my picture-making, but, paradoxically, I have a disproportionate affection for these easy images. Why “easy”? They came easy. They were painted in rare moments of relaxation. Often, they were the happy summing up of conglomerate emotions and ideas that had previously been distilled into picture books and theatrical productions. Simply, they were fun to do.”
  • 52. Other books followed and Sendak won many awards. He explored themes of jealousy, fears of abandonment, danger, etc. This book shown here drew on his memories of the Lindbergh kidnapping case, which terrified him as a child. After being involved in many more books than can be listed here, Maurice moved on to designing sets for opera. He had always loved opera and like the challenge of creating for a new medium.
  • 53. Sendak had already illustrated some books about ballet and opera and now he moved on to stage sized costumes and sets.
  • 54. Original cast, in Theresienstadt Sendak and his long time friend Tony Kushner wrote a book based on an opera by the Jewish Czech composer Hans Krasa, originally performed by the children of Theresienstadt concentration camp. This Brundibár production was filmed for a Nazi propaganda film (The Führer Gives the Jews a City). All of the participants in the Theresienstadt production were herded into cattle trucks and sent to Auschwitz as soon as filming was finished. Most were gassed immediately upon arrival, including the children, the composer Krása, the director, and the musicians. Kushner and Sendak also produced a version of the original opera and it has been quite successful.
  • 55. The drawings in the book are based on the dark corners of Prague’s Malá Strana, Staré Město, Hradčany and Josefov and architectural visual references can be seen throughout the book.
  • 56. Sendak’s 1998 sets and costumes for the opera “Hansel and Gretel” "My main purpose in doing this opera, and doing it now, at this age [69], is that I'm overwhelmed by the abuse of children. Hansel and Gretel is a powerful analogy to modern day child abandonment and cruelty, an opera about pertinent forms of neglect. To mount it in a cutesy German forest is to limit it. Why is the fairy tale so famous? Because it's terrifying."
  • 57. His work became more melancholy as the Holocaust began emerging as a more powerful force — sometimes overtly, sometimes less so. The work gives children the power to conquer through art and ingenuity, reminding parents of the complicated responsibility that requires them to be hopeful but realistic about the terrible wild things out there. “ This was so absolutely, beautifully, rendered for me when I was very young and I saw ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ There’s a scene …when Dorothy is imprisoned in the room with the Wicked Witch, and the witch takes the hourglass and turns it over and says: You see that? That’s how much longer you’ve got to be alive. '‘And Dorothy says, I’m frightened, I’m frightened, and then the crystal ball shows Auntie Em, and Auntie Em is saying, Dorothy, Dorothy, where are you? and Dorothy hovers over it and says: I’m here in Oz, Auntie Em. I’m locked up in the witch’s castle. Don’t go away, I’m frightened. And I remember that when my sister took me I burst into tears. I knew just what it meant, which was that a mother and child can be in the same room and want to help each other, and they cannot. Even though they were face to face, the crystal ball separated them. Something separates people now and then. And I think it’s that moment that interests me, and compels me.’'
  • 58. Video clip from the “Wizard of Oz”
  • 59. In 1971 Sendak taught a course at Yale on children’s books. A student said that “Maurice came overflowing with historical information and critical commentary that, in its concentrated delivery, defied note-taking.” While Sendak made his students feel as if they were “sharing in his life” as he recounted anecdotes of friends and colleagues like Edward Gorey and his magnificent editor and champion Ursala Nordstrom. “only later did the limits of his openness become clear”: Sendak didn’t once mention the love of his life and his partner of many years, Eugene Glynn, to whom Sendak’s moving posthumous love letter is largely dedicated.
  • 60. Maurice Sendak, humanist He was an atheist and a very committed advocate for dealing honestly with children and acknowledging their fears and concerns.
  • 61. “From their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, they continually cope with frustrations as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things”
  • 62. “If there's anything I'm proud of in my work--it's not that I draw better; there's so many better graphic artists than me-or that I write better, no. It's-and I'm not saying I know the truth, because what the hell is that? But what I got is … a kind of fierce honesty, to not let the kid down, to not let the kid get punished, to not suffer the child to be dealt with in a boring, simpering, crushing-ofthe-spirit kind of way.”
  • 63. “I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can't stop them. They leave me and I love them more.”
  • 64. “I want to be alone and work until the day my heads hits the drawing table and I'm dead. Kaput. I feel very much like I want to be with my brother and sister again. They're nowhere. I know they're nowhere and they don't exist, but if nowhere means that's where they are, that's where I want to be.” He died in 2012 at the age of 83. His partner of 50 years died in 2007
  • 65. Gene Deitch, an American, had a Czech wife and lived in Prague for very many years. He became quite close to Sendak when they worked together on various projects. Here is what he said about Sendak towards the end of his life - “In recent interviews, Maurice indulged in purposely outrageous remarks, often in contradiction to things he said or wrote to me. He relished shocking interviewers.” Keep that in mind when you view internet videos of Sendak talking.
  • 66. 5 minute interview with Sendak just before he died