Saturday, March 21, 2015

My Favorite Things by Maira Kalman

Maira Kalman's books lift my heart. Her art is bright and whimsical. Her words celebrate the pleasures around us: sunshine, the taste of a lemon tart, the extravagant swoop of a large hat, a dog's devotion. I'm attracted to her passionate nature. She writes: "I love crazy things, crazily."

In 2011, Kalman was invited to curate an exhibit based on the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City. My Favorite Things is divided into three parts. The central part consists of Kalman's paintings of these museum objects, along with her reasons for selecting each one, written in her distinctive hand lettering.

"The pieces that I chose were based on one thing only--a gasp of DELIGHT." Doesn't that sound a lot like clutter expert Marie Kondo in The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up?

It's an eclectic assortment of everyday objects--textiles, clothing, dishes, furniture, etc. Some of them are humble, some are fancy. There is Abraham Lincoln's pocket watch and the black pall that covered his coffin. "Adding fringes was a decision someone had to make." Lincoln is a favourite subject, obviously, since Kalman has a whole book about him: Looking at Lincoln.

Small photos of each item from the exhibit, along with descriptive detail, are in an appendix at the back of My Favorite Things. While I would have enjoyed seeing the museum's show, I don't feel like I have missed out. Kalman's charming interpretations are enough to make this catalogue stand on its own.

In the first part of My Favorite Things, Kalman uses objects to share stories of her family's history. The third part is devoted to items from her own collection of memorabilia, like packages tied up with string... bringing to mind Maria von Trapp's favorite things in The Sound of Music. I get the feeling that Kalman is the kind of person who isn't afraid to break out in song.

A prolific children's picture book artist and columnist for the New Yorker, Kalman has also illustrated Strunk and White's classic The Elements of Style, Michael Pollan's Food Rules, and Daniel Handler's novel Why We Broke Up. I wonder what she will surprise us with next?

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