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"Where The Wild Things Are" Exhibit Opens At The Figge

Benjamin Payne
"Where the Wild Things Are" exhibit at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport

The author of Where the Wild Things Are—one of the most widely read children's books—now has his own exhibit in the Quad Cities.

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Maurice Sendak's classic book was originally going to be called "Where the Wild Horses Are," until the illustrator realized he couldn't draw horses. So, Sendak changed one word, and was ready to start the project.

That project grew into one of the most popular picture books of all time. More than 20 million copies of Where the Wild Things Are have been sold since it was first published in 1963.

"I think one reason that Maurice Sendak is so loved is that he really caught the dark side of childhood, and the monsters," says Figge Art Museum executive director Tim Schiffer. "I think he gave a voice to children's fears and their uncertainties."

The Figge now has an exhibit about Sendak's work. It contains 50 illustrations—most of them originals, and most of them depicting characters from Where the Wild Things Are.

Credit Benjamin Payne / WVIK
Visitors to the exhibit can pose behind a life-size model of Max's sailboat from the book, as well as his tent.

If you haven't read the book—or can't remember if your parents read it to you as a bedtime story—here's how the story starts off (without giving any spoilers): a boy named Max gets in trouble with his mom after romping through the house in a wolf costume. Sent to his bedroom without dinner, he imagines sailing to an island inhabited by boorish monsters. Hijinks ensue.

"His drawings for that book have such personality," says Schiffer. "All of the monsters have such specific personality, and Max is so believable."

At the exhibit are also drawings of characters from some of Sendak's other books, and gimpses into how he developed as a young artist, including a couple drawings Sendak made of scenes from Shakespeare's Hamlet.

He drew them in high school as a way to pass his English class. At the time, he didn't want to write essays, so the teacher let Sendak express himself visually.

"It's fun to see him not in the printed way, but as an artist just doing drawings," says Schiffer.

When kids sent Sendak fan mail, he would sometimes send them original drawings of characters from the book.

Staying true to his childlike imagination, the Figge also includes an interactive studio where kids can do art activities inspired by Where the Wild Things Are.

The Quad Cities is the latest area to get the traveling exhibit, which began as a way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Where the Wild Things Are.

The exhibit will be at the Figge until August 12. The museum will host a free opening reception Thursday at 5:30 p.m., followed by a curator talk at 6:30 p.m.

The Figge will offer free admission to the museum from July 5 to August 12, which the museum has done each summer since 2015.