(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

Nathaniel Popkin is co-founder of the Hidden City Daily and author of three books of non-fiction, including Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City (with Peter Woodall and Joseph E.B. Elliott) and two novels, Everything is Borrowed and Lion and Leopard. He is co-editor of Who Will Speak for America, an anthology forthcoming in June 2018, and the senior writer of the film documentary "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment."



Leave a Reply

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

Recent Posts
From <em>Click</em> To Clink: A History Of Mug Shots In The Quaker City

From Click To Clink: A History Of Mug Shots In The Quaker City

September 20, 2018  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Harry K. gives us the backstory of Philadelphia's Rogues' Gallery, which has been tracking criminals in photographic form since the 1860s > more

Unlisted Philadelphia: Automobile Row

Unlisted Philadelphia: Automobile Row

September 18, 2018  |  Unlisted Philadelphia

Ben Leech spotlights unique and significant buildings not listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places with his architectural illustration series, Unlisted Philadelphia. In this installment, he puts the pedal to the metal on Automobile Row > more

Abandoned Navy Hangar Prepares For Final Battle

Abandoned Navy Hangar Prepares For Final Battle

September 14, 2018  |  Last Light

A demolition study for the Mustin Field Seaplane Hangar at the Navy Yard puts a structural engineering landmark on notice. Michael Bixler takes us inside > more

Twitter Bot Reveals Revenue Loss From Tax Abatement

Twitter Bot Reveals Revenue Loss From Tax Abatement

September 13, 2018  |  News

Starr Herr-Cardillo catches up with the software engineer behind Philly Tax Abatements, a new Twitter account that aggregates the cost of City money lost to the 10-year tax abatement > more

Harvey Finkle: Photographer Seeks Justice For The Other

Harvey Finkle: Photographer Seeks Justice For The Other

September 10, 2018  |  Walk the Walk

New photography exhibition explores South Philly's Jewish communities and the city's transitioning immigrant populations. Joe Brin has the story > more

New Book Gives Insight Into Uncovering Philly History

New Book Gives Insight Into Uncovering Philly History

September 6, 2018  |  Vantage

Mickey Herr sits down with author and Philly historian extraordinaire Kenneth Finkel to discuss his new book, "Insight Philadelphia" > more