Infest the Waters: A Blog About Design, Life and Making Stuff

I loved your artwork so much that I ate it.

Envelope drawn by Maurice Sendak

Is there really a higher compliment one can receive than having someone eat your artwork?  I don’t think so.

I like to eat.  A lot.  I have a circle of four friends from high school in which I’m known for that particular character trait.  One of the four tried to match me once on our annual trip to small-town Pennsylvania (affectionately named “Podunkapalooza”–more on that sometime in June, when the trip actually happens) and regretted it for the rest of the night.  In fact, here’s a picture of me eating breakfast on one of those trips.

Sam eats breakfast surrounded by a wall of condiments.

Notice the wall of condiments and beverages I’ve built to keep people from eating my food.

Okay, great, you get it.  I like to eat.  What does this have to do with anything?

Today I was saddened at the news that Maurice Sendak had passed away.  Sendak’s work was a big part of my childhood, and although I know Edward Gorey gets most of the love here on my blog, Sendak was probably equally as influential in developing my love of somewhat dark illustration.  As I read his obituary in today’s New York Times, I couldn’t help but be struck by the similarities between Gorey and Sendak, from their love of solitude to their depictions of childhood as a time fraught with perils to their prickly reactions to being described as “that guy who does children’s books.”  I can’t count the number of times my mom read Chicken Soup with Rice or Pierre to me as a child.  Nor can I recall the number of times I rushed to the children’s section of the Bethlehem Public Library to see if any of the Little Bear books (illustrated by Sendak) were there so I could pore over the illustrations from the comfort of my bedroom’s purple shag carpet.

So it is sad, for sure, to lose such a wonderful artist and shepherd to so many children’s childhoods (mine included).

Today, I read this excerpt from an interview he did on NPR’s Fresh Air. (And by the way, if you haven’t caught the fantastic retrospective on Sendak on Fresh Air today, check it out.)  It’s in response to a request from Terry Gross to share some of his favorite comments from readers.

Oh, there are so many. Can I give you just one that I really like? It was from a little boy. He sent me a charming card with a little drawing. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters—sometimes very hastily—but this one I lingered over. I sent him a postcard and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim, I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.

Besides laughing uncontrollably at this story, I couldn’t help but think that this is probably one of the highest compliments you could receive as an artist.  Jim loved the card so much, he wanted, quite literally, for it to be a part of him.  I know I’ve felt that way about things I’ve seen or read that have been so influential that I just want to absorb them into my very soul.  And that’s what Jim did–he ate the card, and it became a part of him.  As an artist, you can only hope that you might reach just one person that profoundly.  You hope that someone wants to eat your work.  I have no doubt, as evidenced by the outpouring of love in the comments on the NY Times obit, that Sendak touched thousands upon thousands of people that way.

Who knows exactly what that postcard looked like, but here’s an example of the kind of envelopes Sendak would send.

Envelope drawn by Maurice Sendak

Kinda makes you want to eat it, right?

Rest in peace, Maurice.  Hope you’re enjoying the wild rumpus in the sky.

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