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Where the Wild Things Were

Protecting the works of illustrator Maurice Sendak



A spherical archive was added to Maurice Sendak’s Chestnut Hill Road home to protect more than 10,000 of his creations. Max being his most famous from Where the Wild Things Are.

Photo by Deborah Hayn

Stacks of neatly labeled boxes fill the space of the Maurice Sendak archive, a recently completed addition to the late author’s Ridgefield home on Chestnut Hill Road. These manuscript sized boxes, each containing the original artwork from Sendak’s popular children’s books such as Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, and Outside Over There, are all slated for the University of Connecticut archives where they have found a home for at least the next five years.

When the acclaimed author and artist died in 2012, the foundation he created, led by his long time trusted friend and employee, Lynn Caponera, immediately went to work on the addition to his home in order to protect his artwork and collections. They also began the tedious task of cataloguing a treasure-trove of over 10,000 pieces of artwork, manuscripts, and other works he collected. Simultaneously, they formed an exploratory committee in hopes that a museum in town might someday display his works and collections. The goal to house it in the Philip Johnson Building on the former Schlumberger property was scrapped because Caponera says that the foundation was just not equipped to run a museum. 

Instead, Sendak’s thousands of pages of book art will be archived along with other award-winning authors in the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection, part of UConn’s Archives and Special Collections. Since it’s located in the convenient corridor between Boston and New York, researchers can study Sendak’s laborious illustration technique, which required several renditions before a single page was ever completed—all done without the benefit of today’s technology. 

“Maurice was a huge fan of education and loved UConn where he often gave classes. He even held an honorary degree,” says Caponera. “This home for his archives will preserve and showcase his legacy.”

As Caponera and team continue to document each and every piece of book art before they journey to UConn, she says they are thrilled by how many disciplines Sendak’s work will touch. 

Sendak’s book art, while vast, is only a portion of the things the foundation is charged with protecting, which is why an addition became their first-item agenda after he died. The Ridgefield archive, a domed building partially faced with natural stone, is attached to Sendak’s 1790s colonial and blends neatly into the surrounding rural landscape. It is climate-controlled with a fire-suppression system designed to extinguish flames by “sucking out the oxygen” rather than using water, explains Caponera, and makes an ideal spot for cataloguing the mountains of book art before they go on loan.

In accordance with the celebrated illustrator’s wishes, his home, which could be a museum in itself save for its rural residential location, remains a study center and archive for his remaining work and his invaluable collection of art, artifacts, and memorabilia. 

Throughout his life, Sendak surrounded himself with mouth-gaping items. Draped over the piano is a worn, but intact Abraham Lincoln campaign flag. He had Herman Melville’s traveling writing desk complete with doodles, John Keats’ death mask, believed to be one of only three worldwide, and fine art including originals by Rembrandt and Goya, to name only a few. Sendak also collected Mickey Mouse characters and, in spite of those donated elsewhere, at least 10,000 of them still remain. 

Recently, Caponera was thrilled to find an unpublished manuscript written with Arthur Yorinks, Sendak’s longtime friend who collaborated with him on two other books. Yorinks, an acclaimed author in his own right, also serves on the foundation board. He had forgotten all about Presto and Zesto in Limboland (Harper Collins), the book the two wrote some 20 years ago and which will be published in September. 

Presto and Zesto is a lively tale of two friends who become lost in what Yorinks calls “magical Limboland.” Inspired by the deep friendship between Yorinks and Sendak, the book becomes just one more of Maurice Sendak’s many treasures now being shared with the world—all just in time to commemorate his 90th birthday this June.


HEY, MICKEY Among the hodgepodge of Sendak artifacts, there is one constant face. Thousands of Mickey Mouse miniatures, mostly from the 1930s, remain huddled together on tables, shelves, and behind glass cabinets—a mass group of memorabilia around the deceased author’s preserved home. 

 

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