Set Design for Magic Flute

Maurice Sendak

An illustrators' job is to interpret the text as a musical conductor interprets a score.*

These are the words of the most well-known and loved author and illustrator of children's books of our time: Maurice Sendak. His most popular work is Where The Wild Things Are. In 1964 it received a Caldecott Medal for most distinguished picture book of the year, and has become a classic.

For more than forty years, the books that Maurice Sendak has written and illustrated have nurtured children and adults alike and have challenged established ideas about what children's literature is and should be. Having never lost touch with the child within himself, he refers to how children are a dominant theme in his work: "My great curiosity [is] about childhood as a state of being, and how all children manage to get through childhood from one day to the next, how they defeat boredom, fear, pain and anxiety and find joy. It is a constant miracle to me that children manage to grow up."*

Maurice Sendak was born in Brooklyn on June 10, 1928, the youngest of the three children of Jewish immigrants, Sarah and Philip Sendak. From a very early age, he knew that he wanted to be an illustrator, or to be involved with books in some way. Books were his friends and were very much alive to him. An early source of inspiration for his work and love of books was his father who often told imaginative stories to him and his brother and sister This made a lasting impression on the children who wrote and illustrated and bound their own story books.

As a child Maurice was very frail and often ill and over-protected. He once commented, "Whenever I wanted to go out to do something, my father would say, ‘You'll catch a cold.' And I did. I did whatever he told me." * Maurice very much disliked school and was not adept at sports. He soon developed a talent for observing and recording life outside his window.

During high school he worked on the yearbook and literary magazine and created a comic strip for the school newspaper about life in the classroom called Pinky Carr. He also worked on the famous comic strip Mutt and Jeff creating background details.

He graduated from high school in 1946, and because he had little formal art training, he considered himself lucky to acquire a full-time job at Timely Service, a Manhattan window display company. He later worked for F.A.O. Schwartz as an assistant constructor of window displays for the store.

It was during this time that Maurice was introduced to the great children's editor Ursula Nordstrom. She was impressed with his work and gave him a chance to illustrate a collection of tales. At the age of twenty-three, his career took off. Since that time, his more than eighty books have sold over seven million copies worldwide and are available in a dozen languages.

Music is a great stimulus in Sendak's work. He has always been drawn toward projects that link his art to music. During the late 1970's, he was offered an opportunity to do that, fulfilling a dream of a lifetime. Director Frank Corsaro asked Sendak to work with him on the staging of operas. The team worked on several operas together, including two of Mozart's operas: Idomeneo for Los Angeles Opera and THE MAGIC FLUTE for Houston Grand Opera. Sendak designed spectacular sets and costumes.

Maurice Sendak has always had a particular fondness for the music of Mozart. While working on his book Outside Over There (1981), he listened to Mozart and, at the end of his book, paid special homage to him. As the character Ida is going through the woods, a cottage is seen in the distance. The silhouetted figure sitting inside is none other than Mozart, writing and composing THE MAGIC FLUTE.

Mr. Sendak has turned his talents towards other performing arts as well including ballet and animated television specials based on his books. He has written the libretti for operas based on two of his own stories: Where The Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop! He is also the Artistic Director of a national children's theatre, THE NIGHT KITCHEN, allowing him to combine all of his artistic passions.

Maurice Sendak currently lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut and spends a great deal of time with his three dogs: Erda, Agamemnon and Io. His studio is at one end of his house. He lives a secluded life with a carefully structured day avoiding distractions so that he can work without interruptions, obsessed with continuing to communicate his visions to the world.

* Lanes, Selma G. The Art of Maurice Sendak. NY: Abradale Press/Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1980.

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