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Maurice Sendak Curates Hannukah Lamp Show at the Jewish Museum

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Maurice Sendak's drawing 'In Grandpa's House' used photographs of Jewish synagogues in Poland as source material. It is on display at the Jewish Museum December 2—January 29. Maurice Sendak's illustration for "In Grandpa's House" used photographs of Jewish synagogues in Poland as source material. It is on display at the Jewish Museum December 2—January 29. (Maurice Sendak, final illustration for "In Grandpa's House" by Phillip Sendak. From the Maurice Sendak Collection, Rosenbach Museum & Library.)

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.

Updated 12/18/11

This lamp was made in Eastern Galicia (now western Ukraine) and features deer in a copper alloy cast. It dates back to 1895.
The Jewish Museum: The Rose and Benjamin Mintz Collection
This lamp was made in Eastern Galicia (now western Ukraine) and features deer in a copper alloy cast. It dates back to 1895.
This piece,
The Jewish Museum, New York: Purchase: Judaica Acquisitions Fund and Bjorn Bamberger Gift, 1994.
This piece, "Barukh Shlomo Griegst," comes from Copenhagen and was cast in silver in 1924.
This copper alloy piece,
The Jewish Museum, New York: Purchase: Gift in memory of Joseph B. Hornik and Elizabeth Cats, 2005.
This copper alloy piece, "Karl Hagenauer," comes from Vienna. It was designed from 1919–28.
This copper alloy piece was cast in the United States in the first half of the 20th century.
The Jewish Museum, New York: Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman.
This copper alloy piece was cast in the United States in the first half of the 20th century.
This German lamp dates back as early as the late 19th century. It is cast in copper alloy and is silver-plated.
Jewish Museum, New York: Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman
This German lamp dates back as early as the late 19th century. It is cast in copper alloy and is silver-plated.
This 18th century Italian Hanukkah Lamp is made from copper alloy and sheet metal.
The Jewish Museum, New York: Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman.
This 18th century Italian Hanukkah Lamp is made from copper alloy and sheet metal.
This lamp also dates back to 18th century Italy and is copper alloy, sheet metal and appliqué.
The Jewish Museum: Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman
This lamp also dates back to 18th century Italy and is copper alloy, sheet metal and appliqué.
This silver piece was made by CIB. Although its origins are unknown, curators think it was made in Altona, Germany in 1761.
The Jewish Museum, New York: Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman
This silver piece was made by CIB. Although its origins are unknown, curators think it was made in Altona, Germany in 1761.
The maker of this silver Hanukkah lamp is TT. It was made in Halberstadt, Germany in the early 18th century.
The Jewish Museum: Purchase: Mrs. Ralph Hyman and H. Lawrence Herring Gift.
The maker of this silver Hanukkah lamp is TT. It was made in Halberstadt, Germany in the early 18th century.
This silver lamp was made after 1888 in Germany.
The Jewish Museum, New York
This silver lamp was made after 1888 in Germany.
This copper alloy piece was made in Russia between the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The Jewish Museum, New York: The Rose and Benjamin Mintz Collection
This copper alloy piece was made in Russia between the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
This gilded copper alloy lamp was possibly made in Eastern Europe between the 18th and early 19th centuries.
The Jewish Museum, New York: Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman.
This gilded copper alloy lamp was possibly made in Eastern Europe between the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Although its originis are unknown, curators think this lamp dates back to the Netherlands in the 19th century.
The Jewish Museum, New York: The Rose and Benjamin Mintz Collection
Although its originis are unknown, curators think this lamp dates back to the Netherlands in the 19th century.
This copper alloy lamp,
The Jewish Museum, New York: Gift of General Joseph T. McNarney
This copper alloy lamp, "Landsberg am Lech," was made in 1945 in Germany.
Maurice Sendak's illustration for 'In Grandpa’s House' (1985) by Philip Sendak, 1982, pencil on paper.
Maurice Sendak Collection, Rosenbach Museum & Library, Philadelphia.
Maurice Sendak's illustration for 'In Grandpa’s House' (1985) by Philip Sendak, 1982, pencil on paper.

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