Tuesday, November 17, 2009

There's a Mystery There: Sendak on Sendak

I cannot even begin to tell you just how much I adore my husband- he is one of few people who would indulge me by going to 3 museums in 1 day and did not complain AT ALL about it (don't worry- we didn't do anything this weekend). After the Tut and Postmortem exhibits, since we were already downtown and still had some time and it being the first weekend of the month, I got in free to the Contemporary Jewish Museum with my Bank of America card. I wanted to see the special exhibit "Sendak on Sendak" which has been perfectly timed with the movie (we still haven't seen it yet) and it was great. They not only had the developmental sketches for many of Maurice Sendak's 100 books but they also had excerpts of him discussing some of the themes and processes in creating these amazing illustrations. One of my favorite video excerpts had him talking about how he learned early on in his career after illustrating a book by Leo Tolstoy that he did not like to illustrate for such great writers because they had already done all of the describing for him. The illustrations did not contribute anything to the story. He then gave the specific example about how no one would want to see him do illustrations for a Jane Austen novel :-) He loved doing illustrations for books like "Where the Wild Things Are" because he could reveal the additional stories not described in the text- thus the "hidden mysteries". I had not known that he had also done the illustrations for the Little Bear series- one of my favorites growing up. It was fascinating that he had several different styles of drawing; there was not one uniform look to his work. I also thought it was clever to hear that many of his "scary" characters are based upon members of his extended family :-) They had these larger scale drawings of his throughout the museum. All in all, it was a very interesting exhibit that made me want to go back and read many of his illustrated books.

We also went and saw their other main exhibit at the museum- "As it is Written: Project 304,805"- which turned out to be quite fascinating. This project has a female scribe (in keeping with the contemporary nature of the museum) who is doing a complete copy of the Torah over the period of a year- which equals 304,805 characters. She was not doing the work as it was Shabbat, but they had a video interview of her doing the process. When she sits down to begin the transcription, she has to announce out loud that she is beginning the work and she had to say the Hebrew character before writing it. She has to copy the text; she cannot do it from memorization. If she makes a mistake, she can erase it by scratching off the ink and writing over it. This is her first full work and the copy of the Torah will be given to a congregation when it is finished. She said that the hardest part of the whole process is making the quill to write with. It has to be carved to precisely the right angle or the characters will not turn out right. The work is written on scored animal skin and once a page is finished, it must be covered unless it is being read. Old copies of the Torah- including ones partially destroyed in Hurricane Katrina- have to be buried. We were lucky enough to be able to see an unrolled copy that had somehow been "decommissioned" (not sure of the process). We were also able to see the mantle- a special cloth covering- that encases the scroll when it is not in use. We both felt that this was such a fascinating exhibit that we very highly recommend.

1 comment:

The Richardsons said...

Oh I would have loved that! It sounds so absolutely fascinating!