Max and his toothy monster pals from Where the Wild Things Are were prominently displayed Sunday at the Rosenbach Museum and Library, where a collection of Maurice Sendak's original and finished works could be seen one last day.
Within the first hour of the museum's opening, about 25 visitors had crammed into a tiny gallery to say goodbye to 45 ink and watercolor illustrations, a small slice of the 10,000 Sendak pieces the Rosenbach had stored for him and periodically exhibited over nearly 50 years.
Sendak died two years ago, and his foundation recently decided to move the bulk of the collection to Ridgefield, Conn., his former home, to create a museum with larger space for his works. The Rosenbach acquired a few hundred pieces and will occasionally display them, said Alicia Thomas of visitor services.
Among the visitors to the Philadelphia museum Sunday was 5-year-old Phoebe Blackburn, who breezed past the famous drawings of Max and found a nook where another Sendak book, In the Night Kitchen, seemed to call out to her. "Yeah, I like this book better," Phoebe said as she looked through the pages. She giggled.
Though a tad less popular than Where the Wild Things Are, her favorite book bubbles with images of a boy getting stirred into a cake batter and then fighting with the dough and swimming in milk.
"These are stories that don't necessarily make sense, but they do to kids," said another visitor, Elizabeth Edge, a retired lawyer from Cherry Hill. "Kids find them delightful."
Sendak wrote and illustrated nearly 100 books, many in the late 1950s and '60s. Early in his career, he had discovered the Rosenbach as a place where he could lie "under . . . a big animal fur blanket" on beds in the gallery and read old Melville books and other masters, according to the Rosenbach. He later worked out an arrangement in which the museum would store his works, and he would lend them for changing exhibits.
Edge recalled reading Sendak's books to her two daughters, and, after they grew up, to her three grandchildren. Now she collects them. Among the 25 copies she has so far is one Sendak signed.
Her husband, Don Edge, a retired literature professor with the State University of New York system, said Sendak not only autographed Higglety Pigglety Pop! after he attended a conference years ago, but also hastily drew Jennie, one of his characters, next to his name. "What can you say about him? He's astonishing and amazing" in person and in his work, Edge said as he examined the sketches and murals in the exhibit.
Giancarlo Vernacchio, 3, wasn't quite up to offering his opinion about the exhibit. In a tiny voice, he said he too liked the Night Kitchen book best. He stared intently at the pictures hanging in the gallery and smiled. His father, Albert, a therapist, said a client had given him a copy of the book and written inside: "For your little wild thing."
In the lobby hung a poster where children were invited to use crayons to draw pictures of their favorite Sendak characters. Max was represented, as were Pierre, Rosie, Jennie the dog, Mickey, and monsters that in some cases looked like big friendly children, a tribute to Sendak's success in demystifying scary creatures.
The Rosenbach curated more than 70 Sendak exhibits starting in 1970. Thomas said the museum would now use that space to display other works. But in the future, she said, the Sendak pieces the museum owns will be brought out again and shown to new generations.