Published: December 13, 2011
Holiday-themed exhibitions are plentiful, with this year’s standout displays presented at The Morgan Library and Museum, The Jewish Museum and Macculloch Hall Historical Museum. Each of the institutions is highly regarded in relationship to the holdings on view, Macculloch Hall possessing the largest collection of artwork by Thomas Nast, the Morgan displaying the original manuscript of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, and The Jewish Museum’s display of Hanukkah lamps from its spectacular collection.
The Jewish Museum
A new exhibition at The Jewish Museum features 33 Hanukkah lamps of varied eras and styles, selected by author and illustrator Maurice Sendak from the museum’s collection. “An Artist Remembers: Hanukkah Lamps Selected by Maurice Sendak” remains on view through January 29.
This highly personal selection echoes the quality of line and depth of emotion that define Sendak’s work. Lamps on view represent 11 countries and were created from the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Centuries.
As the son of Polish immigrants, Sendak could feel at home among the many Eastern European lamps that feature elaborate Torah arks, exuberant floral ornament and fantastic animals. Yet Sendak even surprised himself with his choices.
When going through the museum’s collection, the sheer number and variety of lamps struck a nerve, underscoring Sendak’s deep, lifelong sense of loss at the destruction of the prewar world of his Eastern European Jewish parents. Having movingly evoked that world in his drawings on view in the exhibition for Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories, 1966, and In Grandpa’s House, 1985, he surprised himself by mostly avoiding its rich visual language when choosing lamps for this presentation.
“I stayed away from everything elaborate. I kept looking for very plain, square ones, very severe looking,” he explained. “Their very simplicity reminded me of the Holocaust. And I thought it was inappropriate for me to be thinking of elaboration.”
The lamps Sendak finds most compelling and poignant are those that “go right to the heart,” whose “beauty is contained.” Yet his sense of humor is 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 is guided by his sensibility as an artist and author. He is drawn to simplicity of line, to a design “subservient to the basic idea of the piece,” and responds to the depth of emotion that emanates from a work itself or from the stories behind it. Concerned lest the past be forgotten, he hopes that young visitors to this exhibition will keep alive the memory of a vanished world.
The Jewish Museum is at Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street. For information, www.thejewishmuseum.org or 212-423-3200.
Macculloch Hall Museum
” Here Comes Santa Claus!” a Christmas exhibit in the upstairs gallery of the Macculloch Hall Museum, features about 30 images of Santa Claus along with several of the museum’s holiday-themed Thomas Nast images. Candy containers and decorative Santas from a century ago fill out the festive materials.
This exhibit was created through object loans from Joe and Sharon Happle, Lauren V. Rethwisch and Barbara Silverstein, a local collector and member of the museum. A wonderful collection of various examples of Christmas objects from the second half of the Nineteenth Century through the early Twentieth Century is on view. Early German figural candy containers, rare and exceptional Santa Claus and Belsnickle figures, early Christmas feather trees and ornaments are also displayed.
The exhibition is complemented by about 15 of the museum’s Christmas images by the Nineteenth Century political cartoonist Thomas Nast. The museum holds America’s largest collection of artwork by the artist, with museum founder W. Parsons Todd forming the collection with purchases directly from the artist’s family.
The exhibit features the five Christmas images Nast created during the Civil War. Some of the antique Santa Claus figures are dressed in red, white and blue and hold American flags. The two toy drums in the exhibit echo the sentiment of the four Civil War drums featured in the main gallery for the exhibit ” Gone for a Soldier: Jerseymen in the Civil War,” on view through July. “Here Comes Santa Claus!” is on view through January 29.
The museum closes for the holiday break on Friday, December 23, and reopens for tours on Wednesday, January 4. The museum is at 45 Macculloch Avenue, Morristown, N.J. For general information, www.maccullochhall.org , or 973-538-2404.
The Morgan Library and Museum
This year, in addition to the Morgan’s annual Dickens exhibition , visitors will see even more of the great writer’s Christmas-themed works as part of “Charles Dickens at 200,” an exhibition celebrating Dickens’s bicentennial birthday.
Christmas was Dickens’s favorite holiday, and his cozy depictions of seasonal feasts and merriment have inextricably linked his name to it. On view are both the Morgan’s manuscript and a first edition of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol . Described by Dickens in his preface as a “Ghostly little book,” A Christmas Carol proved an instant classic, with every one of the 6,000 copies printed on December 19, 1843, selling out by Christmas Eve.
The success of the book led Dickens to write a series of four annual novella-length Christmas books: The Chimes , 1844; The Cricket on the Hearth , 1845; The Battle of Life , 1846; and The Haunted Man , 1848. Autograph manuscripts and first editions of these books, bound in rich red and gold, are also on view.
Millions throughout the world greet each New Year with an often unintelligible but deeply felt chorus of “Auld Lang Syne.” “Robert Burns and ‘Auld Lang Syne,'” on view through February 5, untangles the complex origins †and lyrics †of the song that began as a Scottish ballad and was transformed by the great poet into the classic tune we know today.
With rare printed editions and selections from the Morgan’s large collection of Burns letters, this exhibition reveals how three simple words †meaning “old,” “long” and “since” in Scots †combine to form a phrase that has become a global expression of friendship and longing.
The Morgan Library & Museum is at 225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street. Visit www.themorgan.org or call 212-685-0008 for information.
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