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You want to know Where The Wild Things Are? Check out The
Walt Disney Family Museum at The Presidio of San Francisco between now until
The WDFMuseum recently unveiled a traveling exhibit honoring
author and illustrator Maurice Sendak on the 50th anniversary of the
publication of "Where The Wild Things Are
." Sendak's beloved book
revolutionized children's literature in its depiction of Max, a realistic,
moody young boy with a fierce imagination. In the story, filled with wonderful
art, Max ventures forth in his own creative wilderness to confront his demons --
and returns home in time for supper.
Copyright The Walt Disney Family Museum. All rights reserved
At first blush, Walt Disney and Maurice Sendak may seem an
odd pairing. But that's not the way WDFMuseum CEO Gabriella Calicchio or guest
curator Anel Muller see it.
In an interview days before resigning her post as CEO (see
related sidebar), Calicchio explained the museum's three-track approach to
special exhibitions and programming:
"The first track is artists who inspired or influenced
Walt Disney and his animators. So the first exhibition we did in the theater
gallery was 'Heinrich Kley: From Fantasy to Fantasia.' The second track is
artists who worked at the studio during Walt's lifetime, so we featured 'Snow
White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic' in our special
exhibition hall. The third track is artists who were inspired or influenced by
Walt Disney and so this (Sendak exhibit) fits into that category."
She then explained that Sendak was born in 1928, the same
year as Mickey Mouse. Sendak "absolutely loved Mickey Mouse. As a child,
he would borrow his sister's white gloves and pretend he was Mickey Mouse. He
' as a 12-year-old and it changed his life. And he had a lifelong
adoration of Walt Disney, particularly for the creation of Mickey Mouse. It
made total sense that he fit into that third category as an artist inspired and
influenced by Walt Disney."
One display panel next to a picture of Sendak with a hand-drawn
Mickey Mouse includes a few quotes from him: "Oh, I adored Mickey Mouse
when I was a child. He was the emblem of happiness and funniness. ... We're
both about the same age; we're about a month apart. He was the little brother I
As a traveling exhibit, all the art was chosen and some of
the text had been prepared before it arrived at the WDFMuseum. Guest curator
Muller, a WDFMuseum staff member, talked about her role in the exhibition.
"Because of the layout and this space, we felt we
needed more material and we wanted to tell more of a story." Muller added
information, mostly quotes, and then worked to make the exhibit "fit into
our Museum and how we present things."
"Three pieces in the show have Mickey Mouse in them. Maurice
Sendak was a huge Mickey Mouse fan and it made sense to have a panel
specifically about that because otherwise why would he be featured at the Walt
Disney Family Museum?
It was one of the easiest pieces of research I did."
A photograph from 1973 showing Maurice Sendak and part of his Mickey Mousecollection, which eventually grew to include a thousand different items.Copyright The Walt Disney Family Museum. All rights reserved
Muller also recounted that Sendak reportedly once told Diane
Disney Miller that as a young boy he had sent a letter to Walt Disney asking
Disney to adopt him.
"Yes, (Sendak) was a super fan," Muller continued,
"but I think a lot of the ways he saw life are parallel to Walt Disney's: Wanting
to create something for the masses. Sendak didn't want to be known as a kiddie
book author and I don't think Walt Disney wanted to be known as a kiddie movie
maker. He was very aware however that what he was doing was being read by
children. And he believed in being honest with children. Through many of the
films that Walt did over the years, it's the same feeling: Bambi
's mother dies.
Walt doesn't try to hide the facts."
The Sendak exhibit focuses a great deal of attention on "Where
The Wild Things Are" but also includes some other art, including
illustrations of Macbeth he did as a homework assignment for his 10th-grade
teacher Grace Warshauer. She nutured his artistic talents and the two stayed in
touch until her death in 2002. The exhibit also features a family resource
room, a place that literally invites children of all ages to write on the walls
and read a copy of "Where The Wild Things Are" or one of Sendak's
many other books.
"Certainly the idea that this exhibition would appeal
to children of all ages was part of our consideration," Calicchio said,
touting the family resource room. "That's something we've never done
before and were really interested in seeing how that works. We hope that it's
used by young children and adults as well."
"It will be great to see how our visitors respond to
it," Muller added.
I used our meeting as an opportunity to ask Calicchio about
a few policy changes at the WDFMuseum as well as recent membership and
attendance gains. Remember this interview was just a few days prior to her
Departing WDFMuseum CEO Gabriella CalicchioCopyright The Walt Disney Family MuseumAll rights reserved
"I think that we've done things to be more accessible. We
now allow strollers in the galleries, which they didn't allow when I first
arrived. We allow photography. ... Almost every other museum in this country
allows photography. It was the right thing to do. The same with strollers. I
don't know if you've ever been bothered by a stroller in the galleries, but I
haven't. We're doing things that hopefully make everyone feel more welcomed and
In 2012, attendance increased by 13 percent from 2011. The
first quarter of 2013 saw a 71 percent increase from the first quarter of 2012.
Between January and March, some 32,600 people had visited the WDFMuseum. There's
no doubt that the special, separate-ticket exhibition in honor of Snow White
anniversary -- with plans for it announced when the museum first opened in 2009
-- played a huge role in the last quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013.
"The numbers are astounding, especially this last
quarter," Calicchio said. "I think it's a lot of things. There's a
lot more going on at the museum than there probably was in the first year, when
they were just getting up and going. ... This year alone, we're doing five
special exhibitions, two in the theater gallery and three here in the special
exhibitions hall. I think that has a major impact on the visibility and
attention we're getting both from the media and the public.
Copyright The Walt Disney Family Museum.All rights reserved
"I think I've put together an amazing team of people
who are really, really good at what they do and passionate about what they do. And
the word is getting out there. It's beginning to work. I think it's a whole
number of things, but at the core of it is our exhibitions, our programs and
what we offer in our core galleries."
As CEO, Calicchio saw the role of the museum as going beyond
preserving Walt Disney's legacy. "We don't want to just preserve the
legacy; we want to activate the legacy. That's what will make this place matter.
That's how we'll make sure Walt Disney's legacy is infinite and goes on and on
and impacts people forever. It's one thing to preserve; it's another to
activate, to communicate and have impact. And Walt Disney had incredible impact
on so many, many people. We want to help continue that."
To learn more about the museum, visit www.WaltDisney.org.