Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Maurice Sendak (or how I met God)

From talking to friends in the field we all seem to have a Maurice Sendak story. Some quick meeting or class that changed us. Well I certainly have my own. Now if I have to tell you who Maurice Sendak is then you are probably on this blog my mistake ;)

When I was young, it was Where the Wild Things Are that was THE book I read that made me want to become a children's book illustrator. I think it was the combination of the simple text, the great art and the fact that it as about monsters that kept me coming back to reread it over and over. I became a Sendak fan and went out and got every book he did. My family always knew the perfect Christmas gift was a new Sendak book.

When I was 17 I learned that Maurice lived in CT, only about 20 minutes from my house! He was giving a rare talk at the local library and I just HAD to go. I remember getting there about an hour early so I could sit up front. I had no idea what he looked like and I kept looking at the doorway for some tell tell sign that the great man and artist had arrived. I remember one very distinquished man came in. He was over six feet tall with a tweet jacket and looked like he came out of central casting for "famous author". So I was surprised when he just sat in the audience and did not go to the front of the room.

Finally, when we were all seated I saw them usher in a rather short, stocky man with a beard to the front. He seemed a bit nervous. He didn't have a prepared speech but just talked off the cuff and took our questions. He may not have matched my vision of him but he was every bit as entertaining and gifted as I hoped.

After the talk they were whisking him to a waiting car to take him away to a private luncheon (I am sure the tall dapper fellow in tweed was going). I had asked him many questions during the talk and when he was going to leave he turned to me and asked "You want to be an illustrator, don't you?" I stumbled out a weak "yes". Before he got into the car he wrote his number down and gave it to me. "Call me and we can talk some more."

And I did call him sometime later and told him about my portfolio work and what I was doing. He said "Look, I don't drive and I want to go see this movie ET everyone keeps talking about. Why don't you come over to the house show me your work and we can go see this movie".

Now let me say two things. One-shame on you for what you are thinking! And Two-it didn't matter that I had already seen the movie-I hopped in the car and headed over.

The house was amazing. I saw an original Beatrix Potter on the wall and he even asked my opinion on the endpapers for one of his new books. I was barely able to take it all in and still seem like a rational person. I showed him my portfolio which, at the time, was just awful but he gave me very good criticism and encouragement. Then we had to get going to the movie.

We drove to the Fine Arts Theatre in Brookfield, CT. The movie had been out for a while but I remember there was still a line outside waiting to get in. I remember I kept wanting to tell someone that I was standing there with Maurice Sendak but no one took notice of us.

We saw the movie and talked about it as I drove him home. We both laughed that it seemed improbable for aliens who barely can walk to make a spaceship with such long ramps to climb.

I dropped him off and thanked him again for taking the time and his parting words were something to the affect that being an illustrator is the best possible career and I should give everything up to pursue it!

That was a lot to take in and of course I didn't give everything up. But I wonder if I had, if I had tried harder if I would have gone farther with my art talents.

1 comment:

  1. An incredible and marvelous tale!
    (Beginning to seem like we've led somewhat parallel lives as I have several Maurice Sendak stories of my own).
    Unfortunately for us, and I started just a bit before you, we did not get into the field during the golden age Sendak did. Which is why his advice, as you and I both know, may have been true in his day, but has changed radically in ours as has the entire field. My early career began in what turned out to be the last of those golden years. I even worked with some of the same people and am forever appreciative. Sadly, not so much encouragement or opportunity these days.