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An Artist Remembers: Hanukkah Lamps selected by Maurice Sendak at The Jewish Museum
Hanukkah Lamp, Karl Hagenauer, Vienna , designed 1919–28, copper alloy: cast. The Jewish Museum, New York : Purchase: Gift in memory of Joseph B. Hornik and Elizabeth Cats, 2005-43.

NEW YORK, N.Y.- The Jewish Museum presents An Artist Remembers: Hanukkah Lamps Selected by Maurice Sendak from December 2, 2011 through January 29, 2012. This exhibition features thirty-three Hanukkah lamps of varied eras and styles, chosen by renowned author and illustrator Maurice Sendak from The Jewish Museum’s extensive collection. This highly personal selection of lamps, many never before exhibited, echoes the quality of line and depth of emotion that define Sendak’s work. Hanukkah begins at sundown on Tuesday, December 20 and continues until sundown on Wednesday, December 28, 2011.

This exhibition also includes two original drawings for Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories (1966) and In Grandpa’s House (1985), and audio excerpts of a conversation between Maurice Sendak and Jewish Museum curators Susan Braunstein and Claudia Nahson recorded as he picked out the works for the exhibition. The lamps Sendak found most compelling and poignant are those that “go right to the heart,” whose “beauty is contained.” Yet his sense of humor was never far from the surface: as he made his choices he often free-associated, whimsically recalling old movies and Catskills family vacations. Above all, he was guided by his sensibility as an artist and author.

The Jewish Museum possesses the most significant holdings of Jewish ceremonial works in the Western Hemisphere including the world’s foremost collection of Hanukkah lamps.

The lamps on view reflect the diversity of the Museum’s collection ranging from an early 20th century lamp, created in the well-known Hagenauer Workshops, with spiral elements and flower buds characteristic of the Viennese Art Nouveau, to an 18th century piece from Frankfurt am Main, Germany, decorated with two smiling lions supporting a heart and topped by a large stork. Lamps from Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Galicia, Germany, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States are included.

For Sendak, choosing from among such a wealth of lamps was an emotional experience that brought up powerful memories, both joyful and haunting. Many of the pieces come from the vanished Eastern European world of his immigrant Jewish parents, so movingly evoked in his work and reflected in the two drawings on display. The sheer number of these lamps and their rich decoration - featuring Eastern European architectural motifs, elaborate floral ornamentation, and fantastic animals - stirred his deep sense of loss for the members of his family who perished in the Holocaust - a trauma he has attempted to work through in much of his art.

The organizers of the exhibition, Susan L. Braunstein, Curator of Archaeology and Judaica, and Claudia J. Nahson, Curator, both at The Jewish Museum, observed, “We hope that visitors will be moved in various ways by the lamps. For Maurice Sendak, they are powerful repositories of memory, embodying stories that illuminate the past for new generations. The lamps speak to us of their survival through time and of the people that once made or owned them.” Visitors will be able to understand the deep connections between the emotions they evoked in Maurice Sendak and his aesthetic choices. The public will be invited to share their thoughts sparked by the Museum’s lamps or by personal objects they treasure on a board in the exhibition. Periodically, selected visitor memories will be posted on The Jewish Museum’s website.

Maurice Sendak has illustrated more than 100 picture books throughout his 60-year career. Some of his best-known books include Chicken Soup with Rice, Where the Wild Things Are, and In the Night Kitchen. Born in 1928 to Jewish immigrant parents from Poland, Sendak illustrated his first book, Peter and the Wolf, when he was in his early teens. Throughout his career, he has taken characters, stories, and inspirations from his neighbors, family, pop culture, historical sources, and long-held childhood memories. He has won every important prize in children’s literature.

More information about Hanukkah at The Jewish Museum may be obtained by visiting the Museum’s web site at

The festival of Hanukkah commemorates an ancient victory for religious freedom – the liberation and reestablishment of Jewish worship in the Temple in Jerusalem in 164 BCE. According to legend, a miracle occurred as the Jews gave thanks for divine intervention. A one-day supply of consecrated oil necessary for worship burned for the entire eight-day celebration. One of the most popular and beloved Jewish ceremonial objects, the Hanukkah lamp has evolved over the centuries for the kindling of lights during the eight nights of Hanukkah. The Jewish Museum’s collection of Hanukkah lamps reflects the multitude of places where Jews have lived and flourished, as they often incorporate local styles and motifs. The design and history of each lamp speak to a complex interaction of political events, Jewish law, artistic expression, and personal experience. The millennia-old tradition of kindling the festival lights on a winter’s evening continues to have profound meaning around the world as a celebration of freedom and miracles.

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