For anyone planning a trip to New York City over the upcoming holidays--or already there: Make sure you visit Maira Kalman's quirkily charming, provocative exhibit, Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World), at the beautiful Jewish Museum, up until July 31, 2011. The museum sells quite a bit of Mairana, as I call it, so while you're there you can buy have a shower curtain imprinted with her famous New Yorker cover of the Stans of New York City, all her books, and a bag for your loot, printed with her painting of the famous 1939 poster produced by the British government at the outset of World War II: Keep Calm and Carry On.
Sometimes I think of Maira as having been a co-Mom, even though I didn't meet her until my boys were past toddlerhood. Over the years--well into their years--I read them her Max stories over and over again; they couldn't hear them often enough. Sayonara Mrs. Kackleman, Max Makes a Milion, Max in Hollywood, Ooh-La-La: Max in Love (in Paris of course)--they are among our cherished possessions.
As a grown up, I've returned many times to the pages of The Principles of Uncertainty. Many people got to know Maira through her blog, And the Pursuit of Happiness, for the New York Times. I heard Maira lecture recently at the museum; she said that she was smitten with Lincoln, though Franklin's face is on the cover of her collection of those blog posts. She feels she would have made Lincoln a much better wife than that crazy Mary Todd. We got an extra treat: her friend the composer Nico Muhly wrote a gorgeous song cycle based on a book she illustrated for Lemony Snicket, about a despondent bird, called 13 Words.
One of the most poignant paintings in Maira's exhibit is a drawing made by her beautiful mother of the map of the United States. Texas, California and Vermont push up against the border with Canada, Washington D.C, has moved to the midwest, and there's a vast amount of blank space in the middle, labeled Sorry The Rest Unknown Thank You.
"Imagine what it was like to grow up with a mother who saw the world that way," said Maira. We don't need to imagine. We can see the result in the rich vein of creativity Maira has been mining her entire life. Everything she touches bears her unmistakeable stamp. Time for a new generation of children to fall in love.