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Traveling exhibition celebrates book's 50th anniversary

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FARMINGTON — The Farmington Public Library will mount perhaps the most ambitious undertaking in its history this weekend when it opens a traveling exhibition of original works by acclaimed author and illustrator Maurice Sendak.

"Maurice Sendak: 50 Years, 50 Works, 50 Reasons" opens at the library Saturday morning and remains on display through April 22. The show features 50 original drawings and sculptures by Sendak, best known for his children's classic "Where the Wild Things Are." The book has sold tens of millions of copies worldwide and inspired various film adaptations and musical compositions.

The exhibition celebrates the 50th anniversary of the book's publication in 1963 and has been on tour since 2013. It appears in only one location in each state, and its local stop is considered a coup for the library, given the fact that the exhibition has visited major markets across the United States.

With that thought, the library staff is pulling out all the stops to make sure the exhibition is a success.

"It is a big deal," library director Karen McPheeters said Thursday afternoon as preparations for the opening of the exhibition continued. "Why wouldn't we want to celebrate it in that fashion? This doesn't happen very often."

The library has turned over its Multi-Purpose Room to the exhibition and has brought in temporary walls and lighting to showcase the work. It also has invested in a wall-size "Wild Things" mural and is crafting several displays of its own to accent the exhibition. Additionally, library staff members and volunteers are being trained to lead groups through the show and offers specifics about the work.

There is an admission charge for the exhibition — $3 for adults and $1 for children younger than 18 — that is designed to offset the costs of bringing the show here. Proceeds from those fees will benefit the Farmington Public Library Foundation.

McPheeters acknowledged that the effort required to stage a show of this magnitude, and do it justice, is testing the library's resources. The library has never presented an art exhibition, nor is it accustomed to charging for an event. And its spacious Multi-Purpose Room, which customarily handles a variety of events every week, will be turned over entirely to the exhibition for the next seven weeks, limiting the other programming the library is able to do.

"It's taken everyone on our staff and many volunteers," she said. "It is truly going to take the library village to cover it."

But she has no doubts that mobilization of manpower and resources will be worth it. The show's average attendance in other markets has been 42,000 people, and McPheeters is counting on the appeal of Sendak's work to young and old alike to draw a crowd in Farmington.

The popularity of "Where the Wild Things Are" has never waned, allowing the book to become a favorite of multiple generations. McPheeters fondly recalls reading the book to her baby brother "literally hundreds of times," she said, explaining that, at one point, she had the text memorized.

Jenny Lee Ryan, the library's program coordinator, didn't have quite the same experience with Sendak's work. She said her parents banned the work of Sendak and fellow children's author Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) from her childhood household because they considered the illustrations in the former's work too scary for children and simply didn't want to contend with the tongue-twisting prose of the latter.

But Ryan found a way around that situation. During visits to the doctor, she customarily made a beeline to the collection of children's books in the corner of the waiting room, where at an early age she figured out she could count on always finding a copy of "Where the Wild Things Are."

"It was my contraband," she said, laughing.

McPheeters loves those kinds of stories and points to those memories as a big reason why she wanted to bring the exhibition here. She believes the work of Sendak — whom she described as a "rock star of children's literature" has retained its popularity for a half century because it differs from the work of other children's authors and artists in meaningful ways.

"Maurice Sendak kind of dealt with the darker side of things," she said, explaining how some of his characters were unruly to the point of downright disobedience, illustrating the parent-child conflict inherent in virtually every home. "I liked that he dealt with that the way he did. He got a little pushback at the time, but (his work) took off. I think it really speaks to that relationship between parents and children."

The library has a series of special events designed to coincide with the exhibition. On March 22, a "Wild Rumpus" event is planned, while a showing of the Spike Jonze adaptation of "Where the Wild Things Are" will be screened on April 2. And on April 6, exhibition organizer Steve Brezzo will visit the library for a presentation on his interviews with Sendak and Dr. Seuss.

McPheeters has high hopes for the exhibition and noted that several groups already have registered for a tour. Ideally, she said, she'd like to see it inspire a new generation of artists.

"As the director of a library in a community where our literacy rates are really low, I hope parents bring their children and teachers bring their students," she said.

The show has taken the library in a direction to which it is unaccustomed, but McPheeters expects her staff to meet that challenge.

"Overall, we are pretty confident we could do this – and totally confident it was the right thing to do," McPheeters said. "People in Farmington don't usually get exhibitions like this."

Visit infoway.org or call 505-599-1270 for more information.

Mike Easterling is the night editor at The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

 

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