Millions of kids have gone to sleep in their bedrooms listening to the story of Max and the “wild things” created by artist Maurice Sendak. But imagine growing up in a room where the walls were covered with Sendak’s glorious characters.
That’s just what Nina and Larry Chertoff did. In 1961, two years before “Where the Wild Things Are” was published, Sendak painted a mural (a wall-size painting) in the New York City apartment where Nina and Larry, then ages 4 and 6, lived with their parents.
Although the book’s “wild rumpus”-loving monsters aren’t part of the mural, Jennie, Sendak’s beloved pet terrier and star of several books, leads a parade of festively dressed children, a bear and a lion.
The 4-foot-by-13-foot artwork (and the wall it was painted on) has been removed and is being restored to be put on display at a museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Sendak, who is now 82 years old, is thrilled about the project.
“Those two kids were in that room when I was working on it, running in and out of the room, bumping around, laughing, screaming,” Sendak recalled with a chuckle. “I had fun painting it; it was a great experience.”
Fifty years later, the Chertoff siblings — whose names appear in the mural on a parasol held by a lion’s tail — vividly recall it as a magical part of their childhood.
“The beds were below the mural, and at night as a kid you’d be going to sleep and you would fantasize that the array of kids and characters were all going to the park; they were going to go and have a great time,” Larry Chertoff recalled.
After their parents died, the Chertoff children decided to donate the mural to the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia, which has a large collection of Sendak’s work.
Moving the wall and mural took months of planning in 2008. The 1,400-pound plaster-covered masonry wall had to be split in two to get it onto an elevator and out of the apartment building; then it was loaded onto a truck to Philadelphia. Several years of evaluation, planning and construction later, it now rests in its permanent home inside the Rosenbach’s first-floor gallery, where conservation work is underway to stabilize flaking paint.
Equipped with a scalpel, cotton swabs and patience, conservator Cassie Myers works at the Rosenbach nearly every day to meet next month’s completion deadline. The Chertoffs and Sendak said they hope to go to Philadelphia when the restored mural is unveiled on April 14.
“We’re so happy that it can be shared with everyone,” Larry Chertoff said.