Maurice Sendak Exhibit at the Pratt Library

sendak sign

A post from May 2012, written the day after Maurice Sendak’s death, talks about the prolific illustrator and his relationship with Baltimore. The link between artist and City continues with a spectacular memorial exhibit at the Central Enoch Pratt Free Library that opened on October 18 and continues through January 4, 2015.

The display is located on the second floor of the handsome Art Deco Library building and includes a recreation of Max’s room. Max is the protagonist in “Where the Wild Things Are,” Sendak’s best known children’s picture book– with almost 20 million copies sold to date. Sendak won the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1964, the year after the book’s publication, and “Where the Wild Things Are” was so popular with both children and parents that it was made into an animated short, a full-feature film, and an opera!

sendak elevators

When exiting the elevator visitors see Pratt’s version of the room to the left. A recording of chirping birds provides appropriate background sounds to set the scene, and young readers familiar with the story understand they are about to enter Max’s domain where he was sent to bed without his supper.  The moment depicted is Max’s return home from his night time adventure to the island populated by the Wild Things. sendak archway You enter the space through a proscenium arch of leafy trees. There is a doorway inside the room to the left, and when you open it you can see Max swinging in the forest. He is about to plop down into his room near a small table, which has chicken soup, milk and a slice of cake set out on its top—the first thing Max sees upon his return.sendak table

The food is made of polymer resin and appears to be real until visitors reach out and touch the surfaces. sendak cakesendak soup_edited-1 The exhibit designer, Jack Young,  also created a full-size bed with tree trunks for posts, which are covered with moss at their bases.  The organic bed seems to grow out of the floor and the puffy bedding is so inviting to young visitors that it has been a full time job to keep them from jumping onto the structure.sendak bed_edited-1

In the space just outside the room Young has positioned a large orange sail boat that functions as a bookshelf, with many Sendak titles balanced on strips of wood attached to the interior of the boat. Next to the boat is a flat of Max as the “King of the Wild Things.” sendak boaT BOOK CASEsendak boat kid  The face is cut out so that children can insert their own and thereby become Max for a moment.  Down a long hallway, perpendicular to this space, are huge illustrated flats set up in the windows at both ends. A ten or twelve foot Max, as King of the Wild Things, looks out from the the Administrative Offices reception room.  sendak max king of wildthings sendak wild things hallway At the opposite end of the hall,  behind a secondary exhibit of work by artists inspired by Sendak, are huge constructions of rampaging Wild Things.

Jack Young,  the head graphic designer at the Pratt, has done a spectacular job with this major undertaking.  His ongoing work for the Library is most visible to the public in the over-sized display windows on the front of the building where Library events are advertised with huge, colorful posters. And, the familiar Pratt logos, also designed by Young, are certainly well-known to the populace of Baltimore.  If the windows, logos and the many illustrations for in-house publications were your only experiences of Jack’s work, you’d believe that two dimensional design is the artist’s major interest and his forte.  However, after visiting the Sendak exhibit I asked myself if Jack Young ever considered stage design.  He has certainly proven himself to be more than capable of creating 3-D recollections of imaginary worlds with this theatrical display in honor of Sendak and his charming book.

A recent film for Shine Creative’s “Bright” series is a studio interview spotlighting Baltimore’s veteran painter, James Hennessey.  The artist reveals some of his strategies for painting while chatting with the film maker in front of several large-scale works, including a close-up view of a painting about Mad Sweeney.

Film maker, Drury Bynum, chose to highlight Hennessey’s working methods, tools, materials, inspiration and subject matter in this intimate view of a contemporary artist in his working environment.

Sorrento and Surrounding Region: Artistic Inspiration


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For nearly a decade the painter Jim Hennessey was the director of a summer painting program in Southern Italy. He and his wife, Dr. Pamela Potter-Hennessey, were the artist and the art historian in residence. Together they brought more then 75 painting students to the region where they experienced the landscape and light of this amazing region.

Each fall Hennessey returned to his Baltimore studio with numerous Italian references– recorded on paper and canvas, or stockpiled as memories and ideas in his head. This raft of material was the fodder for winter production, and out of his summer experiences the artist created many paintings and drawings that are either directly referential, or inspired by the area.  His tendency was to make watercolors, or drawings while in residence in Italy, and then on his return to Maryland the studio production became oil paintings– some large and some small, like the painting above.  The subjects range from expansive views out of the hotel window or from perches on the regional hill tops, to more intimate views of familiar locales.  This particular painting is from 1995, and is titled S. Agnello, 24.5″ x 18.5″ the name of the tiny Italian town where Hennessey stayed with his students.

The group was always in residence at the Grand Hotel Cocumella, a wonderful, historic hotel that has a long history (since 1777) of hosting artists, writers and other creative people like Goethe, Freud and the Duke of Wellington!  cocumella

The opportunity to spend time in Italy at this amazing locale was the gift of Nino del Papa, a well-known Neapolitan architect who was the proprietor at the time. His interest in supporting artists extended to young American students from the Maryland Institute College of Art, in Baltimore.  The Cocumella staff helped create an atmosphere that was supportive of creativity and was welcoming, warm and intimate.

Each year, at the close of the painting program, the City of Sorrento would host an exhibition of the young artists’ work in the City Hall courtyard, or at the nearby Cloisters of S. Francesco.   sfrancesco  The facilitator of these exhibitions and the person who forged a link between Hennessey’s student groups and the town of Sorrento, was Antonino Fiorentino, a member of the Sorrento City government.  Fiorentino’s father, Domenico Fiorentino, was one of the local artists the students met and were fortunate enough to interact with (see past post: Domenico Fiorentino: Influence Reassessed).


Hennessey’s paintings that were inspired by his time in Southern Italy always seem to take into account the amazing light of the area.  Because the towns of Sorrento and S. Agnello sit on the cliffs above the Bay of Naples, there is often a misty quality to the air, even if the sun is shining.  The detail above illustrates how Hennessey took into account this hazy, mysterious light.

If you are interested in purchasing this painting, the link is:

Inside/Outside: Views by the Painter James J. Hennessey


For decades, James Hennessey has been painting interior scenes with a view to the outside world.  Flaneur, a recent painting, reminds the viewer that the artist was heavily influenced by his teacher Richard Diebenkorn.  He studied with Diebenkorn at the University of Colorado, and the West Coast painter became a significant, life-long influence on Hennessey’s aesthetic. Hennessey’s translucent veils of color, with layers of rich tones reading through, seem suspended in shifting space, part of a tug of war between color and line– the dual concerns driving Modern painting.

Whether Hennessey’s paintings depict the actual view from his studio, from a hotel window, or even if they are made-up scenes and interiors from the artist’s imagination, as in the Flaneur, the viewer senses a relationship between the figures and objects within, and the scene outside.


A 1979 self portrait of Hennessey smoking, while standing in his Eutaw Street studio with his back to the windows, again suggests an interplay between outside/inside.  Has Hennessey stepped back to look at the painting of himself smoking? More than merely a painting of an interior figure with a cityscape as backdrop, the composition suggests a direct relationship between the dark, smoky jumble in the studio and the activity in the world outside with sharply defined architecture and deep blue sky.

Show by James J. Hennessey Closes in Baltimore

A one person exhibition by James J. Hennessey, Baltimore, closed a couple of weeks ago on October 28.  It was the final exhibit at the Antresian Gallery, a commercial space that attempted to make it in the tough Baltimore art market.

Robert Antresian closed shop at the end of October after giving his all to the gallery space on 36th St.  The store website is still up and running, and if you’d like to take a look, here is the link: 

Historically, Baltimore has not been supportive of commercial galleries. One can only think of the many that have gone by the wayside in the past 20 years to recognize that this town is not the best place to show artwork.  The reasons for this apathy and failure are many and the discussion is much too long for this space.  What I’d like to do is showcase some of Jim Hennessey’s paintings, to give you an idea of the work of one significant Baltimore artist.   This is also an opportunity to thank the many people who came to Jim’s opening and to recognize those who bought many of his paintings and drawings from the exhibit. If only all Baltimore exhibits were as successful as this one was, we’d see more viable galleries in town!

The painting is titled, “Gianicolo,” 16.5″ x 18.5″

Hennessey’s landscape painting is of the Gianicolo, or in Latin the Janiculum, the second largest hill in Rome, Italy.  It is also the location of the American Academy in Rome, where Jim was in residence as a Fellow from 1962-1964.

The painting is available at:


RIP Maurice Sendak: Baltimore Savored His Distinctive Designs for the Opera “Hansel and Gretel” in 2000


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Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), the best known children’s book illustrator of the 20th century, died yesterday.  As a collector and avid reader of Sendak’s engaging children’s books, I’ll miss him terribly.  So soon after his death it’s difficult to grasp reality: this amazing artist will never draw new characters to inspire and amaze his loyal audience.

Sendak’s appeal transcended the world of the child.  He was not only an illustrator of their books, he also designed the sets for several operas that were meant to appeal to adults and children alike. Here in Baltimore we enjoyed his quirky creations for the opera “Hansel and Gretel.”  The now defunct Baltimore Opera Company staged the production, and out of all the Company’s elaborate productions Sendak’s was one of the most memorable.

Today in Tom Smith’s “Cleff Notes,” a Baltimore Sun Paper blog, Smith discussed Maurice Sendak’s set design:

“Baltimore audiences had an opportunity to savor Mr. Sendak’s distinctive designs in a production of Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” [in 2000]…. That staging, originally for Houston Grand Opera and used by other companies over the years, made quite a statement. Please forgive the self-quoting, but here’s what I wrote 12 years ago:

Maurice Sendak has seized on the shadowy insinuations of “Hansel and Gretel” in designing the eye-catching scenery … The famed illustrator of children’s books fills the Lyric Opera House stage with fanciful trees and buildings that hide spooky faces; the witch’s house has roving eyes. The witch herself is first seen as a giant, menacing figure flying about on a broom, her giant jaw in constant chomping mode, looking for fresh victims.

The musical performance did not live up to the scenic potential, but Mr. Sendak’s contribution proved memorable. Among other operas he designed are …

Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” (the latter, which I saw in the early ’90s in a Florida Grand Opera production, created an engaging fairy tale for adults) and Janacek’s “The Cunning Little Vixen.”

Smith is one of thousands of fans who wrote about their experiences with Sendak’s work yesterday.  His death will spark a closer look at the man himself.  He was enigmatic and often reticent about his career as an illustrator.  Sendak was quite candid, though, about his motivations during an interview in 2002 by Jeffery Brown, who covered an exhibition of children’s book illustrations. He had the opportunity to chat with Sendak:

Future posts on this website will include photos of Sendak’s drawings, as well as bits and pieces of information about the artist’s long and prolific life. He is best known for his most popular book, Where the Wild Things Are, 1963, an entertaining, but dark and candid view of childhood fears.

I can only imagine the many young illustrators who have been inspired by this master’s work.  Rest in peace Mr. Sendak.

Domenico Fiorentino: Influence Reassessed


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Since the artist Domenico Fiorentino died early this month, I’ve thought about his influence on the art world. I spoke in the past about his contact with our students in the MICA Sorrento Summer program, which was an important aspect of their Italian experience.  The painting forays, discussions about the work, and the social interaction with this local painter left a positive impact on many of the program’s participants.   However, we were only a few of the many people Domenico touched in his long and productive life.

There is also Domenico’s link to the greater world of art to consider–his friendships with other artists, with critics, writers, and museum professionals. He led a quiet daily life in beautiful, sleepy Sorrento, Italy, but Fiorentino had a significant impact on many people from around the world.  The photographs below show him painting his beloved Sorrento and interacting with two of these international art professionals.

The first photo was taken on November 10, 2007, and shows Domenico Fiorentino with Raffaele De Grada ( 1916-2010), a significant Italian art historian from Milan. Raffaele De Grada died on 1st October 2010.

The second photograph was taken on February 5th, 2010, and shows Fiorentino with the famous British art critic Charles Avery, who admires a painting Domenico made in Paris in the period 1982/1989.

The third photograph shows Domenico Fiorentino painting a view from Sorrento on the 6th of July, 2006.

As time passes, Domenico Fiorentino’s true legacy will be discussed and documented.  He led a long and fruitful artistic and personal life and will be sorely missed.

Tributes to the Painter Domenico Fiorentino, Sorrento, Italy

The tributes are pouring in to the City of Sorrento and to the family of Domenico Fiorentino, who died on April 4th.  Numerous eulogies have also been published in local and Neapolitan newspapers, as well as appearing in online sites. The Italian, realist painter was much-loved by the citizens of Sorrento, well-known throughout Italy, and was cherished by those of us who were fortunate to have met him while visiting the City.

In the last post I mentioned our students from the Maryland Institute, College of Art, who painted with Domenico in and about Sorrento.  One of these acolytes, Drew Bacigalupa, was not a young art student, but an alum who graduated from MICA in 1952!  He participated in our program in 1992 and was certainly one of the most productive and enthusiastic group members.  Drew became fast friends with Domenico, his son Antonino, and the Fiorentino family, returning to the City to visit several times.  He was instrumental in arranging for Sorrento to become a “Sister City” with Santa Fe, NM, where Drew lives and works in his studio on Canyon Drive.  He wrote an encomium of Domenico which he sent to the Honorable Mayor of Sorrento on the day Domenico died. He said:

Honorable Mayor Cuomo,

“As a dear friend of — and actually feeling like a member of their family — the Fiorentini of Sorrento, I wish to express my deep sympathy for the passing today of your city’s great painter Domenico Fiorentino. I’ve spent many days with him in the past, sharing painting outings in the towns of Penisola Sorrento as well as sailing crafts on your blue Mediterranean Sea. I add to my own salute to Domenico that of the City of Santa Fe, for many of our citizens in Sister City exchanges have visited, enjoyed and hold fond memories of your exceptionally charming and gracious, hospitable community. Domenico’s numerous paintings of that community are beautiful tributes to the city he loved.”
Andrea Bacigalupa
The Italian Senator and long time friend of Domenico Fiorentino,  Senator, Prof. Raffaele Lauro, paid public tribute to the artist on the 5th of April:

“ Deeply saddened, I wish to express my public condolences to the friends
Rosario, Antonino and Michele for the painful death of their beloved father,
Domenico, unique figure as an artist and an authentic expression of the
spirit of Sorrento.
I cling to them and the whole family with a fraternal embrace. I have
always been a secret admirer of paintings by Domenico Fiorentino,
who could translate, on the canvas, the fascinating charm of light, colors
and even the perfumes of our land. His painting, characterized by magic
realism, is a valuable cultural heritage that deserves to be kept by public
institutions and offered to the admiration of future generations.

The Senator’s printed, complete message, in both Italian and English can be read at:

A press release was put out by the Office of the Mayor of Sorrento on the 4th. To view this message in English and in Italian see:  press_release_of_press_office_of_Sorrento_mayor_4th_aprile_2012

A message from Sumiko Osugi , First Segretary and Cultural Attache and Head of Press and Cultural Office of the Embassy of Japan in Italy, Rome:

“On this sad occasion, expressing my high appreciation for the work of the artist FIORENTINO, I offer my deepest condolences to you and all your family.
Sumiko Osugi ”

Italian :

Le invio il seguente messaggio da parte dell’Addetto Culturale e Capo Ufficio Culturale e Stampa dell’Ambasciata del Giappone, Primo Segretario Sumiko Osugi:

“In questa triste circostanza, manifestando tutto il mio apprezzamento per l’attività del Maestro Fiorentino, porgo le più sentite condoglianze a Lei e a tutta la Sua famiglia.
Sumiko Osugi”


From Prof. Erik Edvardsen, on 4th April 2012, Director, Ibsen Museum, OSLO, Norway

“What a sad message to receive. Your friendly, nice and talented father, a real gentleman and artist. I will pray for Domenico and think about him and you all, when the funeral takes place tomorrow on Thursday.

It is a great loss for us all.

Remember all the nice and  wonderfull things you that you have experienced together.
We are all happy to have met  him and known him.
Sincere  Erik Edvardsen ”

The Ties That Bind: Domenico Fiorentino, Sorrentine Painter and Baltimore


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The well-known Italian realist painter, Domenico Fiorentino, of Sorrento, Italy died a few days ago on the 4th of April. What a tremendous loss for the art world–both here and in Italy.  The Baltimore artist Jim Hennessey and I have known Domenico since 1992, when we met while directing a summer program in Sorrento for the Maryland Institute, College of Art.  We led a small group of American students to Italy in order to paint the lush landscape of the South.  I was the program art historian, and my husband Jim was the painter.

Domenico Fiorentino was introduced to us by his son, Antonino, an energetic and enthusiastic connoisseur of the arts, who orchestrated our encounters with this amazing artist.

Our students met with Domenico in the streets of Sorrento where they set up their French easels to paint the buildings and busy market stalls.  On several occasions he joined us on the beach and docks of Massa Lubrense, a small picturesque fishing village where they painted the boats and the rocky landscape.  

Domenico didn’t speak English and the students’ Italian was rudimentary at best and so during these forays Jim acted as translator.

When Antonino–who works as a functionary for the City of Sorrento–had time to join us he spoke with his father about the students’ experiences.  After the long days in the sun we all shared drinks at a nearby bar to cool off before our return by local bus to our hotel and studio.

It was during these encounters that first summer that a link between Baltimore and Sorrento was forged.  It continued and strengthened for several summers, with contact between our young students and the accomplished, Italian master.  When we left the MICA program after 5 years, our saddest moment came when we realized that we wouldn’t be able to interact with Domenico the next year, something we had come to expect and treasure at the same time.

One of the most amusing experiences with Domenico Fiorentino was the day that he and Jim Hennessey proposed a portrait challenge.  They faced off in an upstairs room in Pollio’s ice cream parlor, in the center of town, where the walls were hung with many of Domenico’s paintings. The two artists stared at one another with drawing boards propped on the table and pencils at the ready.  While Antonino and some of the students and I paced the floor, watching the progress, Drew Bacigalupa filmed the encounter.  You can see a few minutes of the challenge on Drew’s youtube video:

Domenico Fiorentino was born in 1923, and he spent his life painting his beloved town of Sorrento and the surrounding landscape. He studied early on at the Sorrento College of Art and then in Naples at the Accademia di Belle Arti.  He came to the attention of the Neapolitan painter Luigi Crisconio early in his life. Domenico’s family owned the pensione “Rosa Magra,” which attracted artists from around the world.  When Crisconio stayed in Sorrento at ” ZI TERESA,” a restaurant and pension in front of the house where Domenico lived, the little boy followed the artist about when he ventured out to paint.  Crisconio befriended the boy and later when he was Domenico’s teacher at the Accademia he encouraged this prolific, committed artist. Fiorentino continued to produce his realistic works that included insightful portraits, as well as the documentary landscapes.

By the time we met Domenico in the early 1990s, he had become an established member of the Sorrentine Plein Air School of Painting and was best known for his landscapes of the region. We were lucky enough to see many of his early portraits when we were shown a large group of his paintings by a local collector.

Domenico generously gave us one of his paintings of the town center. When the artist presented us with his gift we promised that we would frame the painting immediately upon our return to Baltimore.  It hangs today in our living room with other precious works done by artist friends.

The impact that Domenico Fiorentino had on Baltimore and Baltimore artists would be difficult to trace, but I know it was significant.  This kind and gentle man, a devoted painter who took out precious time to interact with our young students, met with more than 40 of them through the years.  He passed on his knowledge and love of painting and also demonstrated to them his devotion to the arts and his life-long work ethic. He will be sorely missed by many of us.

A biography of the artist can be found at this website: