To add to all the other exciting news circulating around our collections recently, we’ve gotten word that a mural painted by Maurice Sendak on the wall of a New York apartment in 1961 will finally be arriving at the museum in mid-January 2011! Its new permanent home will be the Sendak Gallery on the first floor of the museum. This is the homestretch of a project that’s taken more than three years, but will ultimately share with our visitors the only surviving mural painted by Sendak, as well as the longest (at about 13 feet long) and heaviest (at nearly 800 pounds!) piece in our Maurice Sendak Collection.
A 33-year-old Sendak painted the mural for his friend Roslyn Chertoff and her two children, Nina and Larry. The mural depicts a procession of classic Sendakian characters (almost all of whom show up at some point or another in his picture books and other drawings): His dog, Jennie, is in the lead, followed by two boys playing a drum and a trumpet and guiding a lion on a chain; following them is a little girl in an oversize red dress leading a bear on a leash, while a golden sun shines on them from the upper right corner. The whole assembly is colorful, rambunctious, and lively (not to mention well attired, particularly their various hats). A few years ago, Nina and Larry generously donated the mural to the Rosenbach. Judy Guston, Curator & Director of Collections at the museum, went to New York with a team of conservators from Milner + Carr to see the mural for herself: “I think the most striking thing about the mural was its location in a room that overlooked NYC’s Central Park. The light streaming into the high windows, while curators usually think of it as bad for art, lent a sense of joy and movement to the work, almost leading the procession of characters outside into the park, which is what I was convinced the work was supposed to do—to lead the children from their bedroom outside into a place of adventure and play.”
Detail of the Chertoff Mural prior to conservation. (C) 1961 by Maurice Sendak, all rights reserved.
Of course, the tricky bit was removing the mural from the apartment. As Judy explained, “At first, it had seemed that it might be removed ‘from’ the wall, but upon the start of the actual work, it became clear that the entire wall would need to be removed to keep the fragile mural intact.” That’s 800 pounds of gypsum block wall! It took four days for the conservators to carefully stabilize the mural’s surface and flaking paint, cut out the massive section of wall, and prepare it for travel to our area—a miraculous process that we’ve documented on film and that will be the subject of future blog posts.
There’s still much to be done. We’re still looking for a few final contributors to help us bring the mural home and interpret it for our visitors—check out our “Bring It Home!” campaign page for more details about how you can help this effort. After the mural is installed, in late January through February we’ll be inviting you to witness the actual conservation of the mural in the gallery itself. Keep your eyes on our website, free e-newsletter, and this blog so you can follow mural developments throughout the winter.