Subscribe to the Rosenblog!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Sendak and Science: Atomics for the Millions

Final drawing for Atomics for the Millions.  Pen and ink, gouache.  (C) 1946-7 by Maurice Sendak.
Maurice Sendak got his first “gig” in the world of book illustration when he was 18, as some astonishing materials recently purchased by the Rosenbach attest.  It was the spring of 1946, and his physics teacher at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, Hyman Ruchlis—recalling Sendak’s artistic talent from his contributions to the school literary magazine and comic strips—asked his student to produce illustrations for a book he was co-writing on atomic energy.  Ruchlis, co-author Maxwell Eidinoff, and publisher McGraw Hill, needed lively and informative scientific diagrams as well as larger pictorial sequences for their book, tentatively titled Atomic Adventures.  This week the Rosenbach acquired 18 original drawings for Atomics for the Millions, as it came to be called, as well as the contracts signed by Sendak and the authors. 
Contract for Atomics for the Millions, July 22, 1946
It wasn’t a bad “gig” for an 18-year-old aspiring artist.  As the contract shows, Sendak was paid $100: $50 in advance, $50 upon delivery (though, as legend has it, a passing grade in physics was also part of the deal).  It was hard-earned, since Sendak created over 100 pen-and-ink illustrations for the book, with imagery as diverse as a portrait of Einstein contemplating the relationship between matter and energy, the uncontrolled atomic reaction triggered by a nuclear weapon, and a medieval alchemist in his rudimentary laboratory.  A dome-headed, lab-coated scientist also shows up in several of Sendak’s drawings investigating the secrets of the atom.  He has the feel of a stock comic book scientist, possibly of the “mad” variety.  

It was another four years before Sendak illustrated another book: Marcel Ayme’s Wonderful Farm, which marked the beginning of his career in children’s books.  Sendak’s illustrations for Atomics for the Millions were long presumed destroyed, and it is a shame no other illustrations have resurfaced.  But these 18 demonstrate a number of characteristics about the young illustrator that could be said of the mature Sendak, as well.  They reveal his debt to comics and early animation; his blend of literal, serious imagery (such as the Einstein and Curie portraits) with imaginative, humorous illustrations (Sodium and Chlorine atoms as dancing partners "attracted" to each other); and his developing pen-and-ink style that favored shading and texture through cross-hatching.  Atomics for the Millions might not be the brightest star in the constellation of Sendak-illustrated books, but it may just be the big bang where some of the elements of his illustration find their origins.  See for yourself next week, when we install one or two of the drawings in our current exhibition, Maurice Sendak: A Legacy (closes May 26th). 

Final drawing for Atomics for the Millions.  Pen and ink, gouache.  (C) 1956-7 by Maurice Sendak.

Patrick Rodgers is Curator of the Maurice Sendak Collection at the Rosenbach Museum & Library. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Merger Media Medley

Free Library Foundation and Rosenbach directors and board chairs with the mayor and Dr. R
 Clearly the big news this week at the Rosenbach is our plan to merge with the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation. Here's a quick round-up of some of the news coverage that the announcement has been receiving, in case you'd like to read more:

Philadelphia Inquirer 4-17-2013 

AP Wire  4-17-2013 (very short notice)

WHYY  4-17-2013

KYW 4-17-2013

Philadelphia Inquirer 4-18-2013 (this second Inquirer article focuses on the Rosenbach's collections)

Metro 4-18-2013

Library Journal 4-19-2013

We also had brief clips on 6ABC and Fox29 news.  A pretty good start for what is going to be an exciting new step for the Rosenbach!

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

Friday, April 12, 2013

1863 is Just Around the Corner

This week I thought I'd offer up a few behind-the-scenes photos as we get Gallery 1 ready for Voices of 1863.

Here's what the gallery looks like from the door. We decided to take a cue from the domestic nature of our gallery spaces and picked colors inspired by Victorian interiors.

The exhibit will also include a Victorian-parlor-inspired seating area to relax and digest all the wonderful materials.

Our hard-working intern, Anne Baker, is excellent at turning exhibition cases purple. Thanks Anne. Thanks also to our other collections intern, Anne Lutun, for helping us move all the heavy cases into position. I wish I had taken pictures of that project!

Here is our cozy prep-room space filled with fabulous Civil War documents waiting to be matted and framed. 

See how it all comes together when Voices of 1863 opens on May 1!

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

Friday, April 05, 2013

Making Connections

Here at the Rosenbach we are thrilled when people make a personal connection with our collections. Sometimes the connection is sparked by an aesthetic encounter, sometimes a connection with a historic document, but one of our recent visitors was surprised to find a family connection here at the Rosenbach.

The story comes to us from one of our new 2012 class of docents, who explained that a colleague's daughter, who is in college studying literature, came to visit the Rosenbach a few weeks back. She was on the house tour when the docent giving the tour explained about the Rosenbach's collection of captivity narratives (accounts of white women taken captive by Indians in the 17th through 19th centuries). 

It turns out that the daughter is a descendant of Mary Jemison, a woman who was taken captive in 1758 in a raid on along Marsh Creek in central Pennsylvania. Mary's story is recounted in the 1824 Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison and our visitor was thrilled to actually see the book on our shelves. She remembered her grandmother mentioning that Mary had been the subject of a famous book and she couldn't wait to share her experience at the Rosenbach with the rest of her family

James E. Seaver, A narrative of the life of Mary Jemison. Canandaiuga: James Bemis and Co., 1824. A 824n

Mary Jemison's story is a particularly interesting captivity narrative because she became assimilated to Native American life.  She married twice: first a Delaware man and then a Seneca, and despite many opportunities to rejoin white society she chose to remain with the Seneca until she died in 1833. She had eight children and numerous descendents, one of whom was our visitor! 

So you never know what kind of connection you'll find at the Rosenbach. If you are intrigued by the story of Mary Jemison, you can read the whole text via Project Gutenberg. For more about the genre of captivity narratives, you can check out the 2011 Rosen-Blog post on Mary Rowlandson, whose 1682 narrative began this uniquely American literary genre.


Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog