In the grand tradition of the winter holiday spirit, the Jewish Museum is prepared for Hannukah ahead of the start of the Festival of Lights. For the holiday, which begins this year on Dec. 20, the museum asked children's book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak to choose a selection of Hannukah lamps, more commonly known as menorahs, from its collection to put on display.
The 33 lamps Sendak selected were made in Germany, Italy, Denmark, Spain and Austria, among other countries, and are part of an exhibit open at the museum called An Artist Remembers.
Though Sendak is known for his elaborate line drawings and whimsical imaginative books like "Where The Wild Things Are," the lamps on display at The Jewish Museum reflect a pared-down sensibility. Most of the pieces were cast in copper alloy and contain simple elements that reflect the four continents where the lamps were made. Sendak chose his pieces from the museum's collection of more than 1,000 lamps.
"I stayed away from everything elaborate," Sendak said in an interview with The Jewish Museum. "I kept looking for very plain, square ones, very severe looking."
Sendak told the museum that he chose such spare lamps because they were a reminder of the injustices done to Jews during the Holocaust. His own parents were Jews who emigrated to Brooklyn from Poland and he had family members who died during the Holocaust.
Susan Branstein, a Judaica expert who curated the exhibit along with Claudia Nahson, said at first Sendak's selection of lamps was a bit of a surprise.
"We thought he'd go for wild animals because he was the author of 'Where the Wild Things Are,'" Branstein said. "But there's also an emotional quality to Maurice Sendak's work, which was reflected as he looked at the lamps and they brought back many memories not only of his lost relatives but of people who he had known who are no longer here."
Upon further thought, Branstein said the lamps Sendak chose were similar in style to his own ink and pencil drawings. She added that some of the lamps have their own stories of liberation, like one made in 1945 by a Jewish family that was living in a displaced persons camp at the end of World War II.
The lamp is dedicated to General Joseph McNarney, who took over command of European operations after the war, and was celebrated by the lamp's creators as their liberator. The piece, with its traditional copper alloy central shaft and eight candle holders, is the kind of lamp that Branstein sees as an apt representation of the holiday.
"Hannukah is a festival of liberation," Branstein said, "but that was a time of great liberation for all of these Jews, so that's the connection."
A Hannukah lamp is another name for the nine-branched candle holder used during the holiday.
"An Artist Remembers: Hannukah Lamps Selected by Maurice Sendak" will be on view at the Jewish Museum through Jan. 29.