(Sky) Lines And Memories, Redux

 

Editor’s Note: In memory of Maurice Sendak, I’m republishing this piece, which originally ran as part of a longer article on PhillySkyline.com February 22, 2009. Sendak’s vision lives inside so many of us, including my own children. They grew up on his work, powerfully drawn to even the strangely disconcerting “Brundibar.”

Of all the skyline images in Philadelphia, perhaps the one that hangs on the second floor of the Rosenbach Museum is most achingly familiar — and not because the tallest building is a slick, bulky glass tower that rises above a wide plaza. This isn’t the contemporary city, but rather the skyline of memory: Maurice Sendak’s interpretation of his mother’s pantry, the dreamscape city of In the Night Kitchen.

Sendak’s skyline, which itself is seared into the childhood of so many, is a view to the fluid mind of a child, who so joyously, and sometimes melancholically, conflates forms, names, sounds, and memories. “What interests me,” says Sendak, “is what children do at a particular moment in their lives when there are no rules, no laws, when emotionally they don’t know what is expected of them.” Then, milk bottles become glistening towers, salt shakers Victorian palaces.

This is Sendak’s territory, a place of a child’s “ungovernable emotion,” where the urban form is tangible, alive, still another wild thing. No other children’s author quite gets this intersection of childhood and place without mythologizing the moment; Sendak’s Brooklyn of the 1940s was brilliant and frightening, loose and strict, maddeningly social and terrifyingly lonely.

Now, thanks to a long-evolving relationship between the author and the Rosenbach Museum and Library, Sendak feels as much part of Philadelphia as New York. His life’s work is here, for 10 more weeks on display in the sprawling and intimate “There’s a Mystery There: Sendak on Sendak”. Here’s the human scale of Brooklyn in Pierre and The Sign on Rosie’s Door; Little Lorie’s Manhattan, Mickey and Max and Kenny; the war-time Prague of Brundibar. Here too is Sendak’s original drawing of the languid streetscape of an Italian village in Philadelphia author Frank Stockton’s The Griffin and the Minor Canon. In that book, Sendak makes a Victorian fairy tale about a medieval town resonant. The fearful villagers grasp for but don’t seem to be able to control their future.

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine. Popkin's literary criticism appears in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Kenyon Review, and The Millions. He is writer-in-residence of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.



Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
A Royal Loss On South Street

A Royal Loss On South Street

February 24, 2017  |  Last Light

In the midst of demolition, Michael Bixler takes a walk inside the brittle bones of the Royal Theater with this photo essay > more

Urban Decay As American As Beer And Apple Pie

Urban Decay As American As Beer And Apple Pie

February 21, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

The Shadow taps into Philly beer history and frozen pie trivia at the old Adam Scheidt Brewing Company plant on North 9th Street > more

Unlisted Philadelphia: Atlantic Snuff Company

Unlisted Philadelphia: Atlantic Snuff Company

February 17, 2017  |  Unlisted Philadelphia

Architectural illustrator Ben Leech spotlights unique and significant buildings not protected on the local register with his series, Unlisted Philadelphia. In this installment, a High Victorian in Chinatown that's still up to snuff > more

Inside The Empty, Gilded Halls Of Elkins Estate

Inside The Empty, Gilded Halls Of Elkins Estate

February 16, 2017  |  Last Light

Photographer Kris Catherine gives an exclusive look inside the opulent mansions of Elkins Estate > more

Dial Up For The Latest Election News

Dial Up For The Latest Election News

February 14, 2017  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Harry K. dials up the Evening Telegraph Information Bureau, a pilot communications service in 1905 that provided Keystone Telephone customers with news and information at a moment's notice > more

La Salle University Threatens Germantown Landmarks

La Salle University Threatens Germantown Landmarks

February 9, 2017  |  Soapbox

On Friday, the Historical Commission will consider legal protections for two historic Germantown homes. Owners La Salle University will oppose the nominations to retain their right to demolition. Arielle Harris makes a case for saving these two Wister family properties and reveals La Salle's long tradition of razing neighborhood landmarks > more