So where, exactly, are the wild things?
For a few weeks this summer, they’ll be at the Albany County Public Library.
“The Maurice Sendak Memorial Exhibition: 50 Years, 50 Works, 50 Reasons,” a nationwide exhibit featuring illustrations by author and artist Maurice Sendak, is scheduled to show in Laramie from May 30-July 8 in the library’s large meeting room. The exhibit will be open 1-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and 1-3 p.m. Saturdays. Admission is free.
Sendak is perhaps most famous for writing and illustrating “Where the Wild Things Are,” a classic children’s book published in 1963. The exhibit, making its only Wyoming stop, includes original works by the artist, gathered from art collectors and others who knew him. The exhibit also includes quotes from friends, celebrities, artists and politicians about Sendak and his influence.
Caitlin White, executive director of the Albany County Public Library Foundation, said exhibit director Steve Brezzo approached the library a couple years ago seeking a Wyoming location.
She said the library was fortunate enough to have a suitable space for the exhibit, as well as a collection of sponsors that stepped up.
“We’re really excited,” White said. “The other places this exhibit has been during its nationwide tour are huge art museums and places with large budgets.”
Sendak was born in 1928 in Brooklyn, New York, to Jewish-Polish immigrant parents. According to Brezzo, he grew up with a love of Mickey Mouse, and he shared a birthday with the film debut of the cartoon character. He began his career illustrating children’s books, including the “Little Bear” series, before writing his own.
“Where the Wild Things Are” received international acclaim and won the Caldecott Medal in 1964. In the book, a boy named Max is sent to bed without supper. His bedroom transforms into a jungle, and he sails to an island inhabited by monsters, becoming their king. Then, Max sails home to find supper waiting for him in his room.
Brezzo, who collaborated with Sendak on exhibits and projects before his death in 2012, said Sendak once explained the Wild Things in the book were his Polish relatives.
“It was all about being a child and becoming a wild thing yourself and realizing that your heart is back with your family, seeking solace in their arms,” Brezzo said.
He said Sendak’s work has enduring appeal because he understood the universal conditions of childhood.
“Great children’s illustrators and storytellers are children at heart, and they understand fear, innocence, longing, love, compassion, bullying and all the factors of growing up,” he said.
The idea for the exhibit began as a memorial to Sendak after his death and in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the publication of “Where the Wild Things Are.” The exhibit has been touring the country since 2013.
During the planning process for the exhibit, Brezzo was contacted by the grandson of Sendak’s junior high English teacher.
The grandson found some drawings his grandmother saved, which were done by Sendak in lieu of a presentation about “Macbeth,” as Sendak was a shy student. Those drawings are part of the exhibit.
“They’re very evocative of Sendak and his style — dark images and dark strokes of the pen and brush,” Brezzo said.
He described Sendak as the “anti-Dr. Seuss.” The two artists knew each other, and according to Brezzo, Seuss said Sendak was the best children’s book illustrator and author working at the time of their conversation in the 1960s.
“(Sendak) was deeply affect by the Holocaust. He knew about all loss, loyalty and family. That is so apparent in his work,” Brezzo said.
White said Sendak’s appeal continues today, with many parents reading to their children the same books they read as children.
“One thing I really like about Maurice Sendak, as a reader, is he’s so honest and transparent,” she said.
“He was one of the first authors to really not be afraid to tell kids the truth about stuff.”
The library’s summer reading program will have a “Where the Wild Things Are” theme this year. One activity for children will be an exhibit passport, with weekly trivia questions and the chance to enter a drawing for a Sendak-themed prize basket.