A Gallery is for Painting

…or at least that’s what it feels like as we prepare to install our next Sendak exhibit “For Ruthie: Ruth Krauss, Maurice Sendak, and Their Young Philosophers,” which will open next Wednesday (2/10). Or perhaps, to riff on another Krauss title, I could say “I want to paint my gallery green.” We haven’t actually painted the whole thing green–parts of the room are also “butterscotch” and “french pastry,” which would be a lot nicer in my book if they were actual desserts rather than paint colors.

But paint, plaster, and woodfill aside, I am very excited about this show because the Ruth Krauss books are some of my personal favorites in the Sendak collection. If you are not familiar with Krauss, she was the author of 45 books over her long career, of which the most famous is probably her second book The Carrot Seed; it was published in 1945 and has never been out of print. Sendak first worked with her on A Hole is to Dig, which came out in 1952 and marked Sendak’s first real success as an illustrator. As he explained, “Ruth saw my funny little drawings of the big-headed children from Brooklyn, and she liked them. I was a complete unknown, complete unknown. I’d only done one book, and that was for the United Seminary of America, called “Good Shabbos, Everybody.” I dare say that was not a well-known book. Oh, God, was that a book. And Ruth said, `Give it to them.” Krauss became a mentor and close friend for Sendak; he would go on to illustrate A Very Special House, I’ll Be You and You Be Me, Charlotte and the White Horse, I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blue, Somebody Else’s Nut Tree, Open House for Butterflies, The Birthday Party, and Bears, which was originally illustrated by Phyllis Rowand, but was reillustrated by Sendak in 2005.

Why do I like the Krauss books so much? Some of them I enjoy simply because they are so direct and funny–books like A Hole is to Dig, which offers up definitions from children’s perspective, such as “toes are to wiggle” and “a tablespoon is to eat a table.” I have young kids myself and I think Krauss really nailed it. Sendak thought so too—he credits Krauss with having taught him to be fiercely honest about children in his books. Other Krauss books I love because the illustrations are so beautiful. Sendak did some really fantastic watercolors for books like Charlotte and the White Horse and I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blue. Here’s an example:

Final drawing for I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blue. © Maurice Sendak, 1956, All rights reserved.

But don’t take my word for it. Give us another week to get the gallery ship-shape and then come see for yourself.