“Can meet for quick lunch at 1:30. You need to pick place.” The text from my son, Tim, came in at 11:30 a.m. I had just enough time to change clothes, walk to the subway and travel from where I was staying in Brooklyn to 63rd and Park in Manhattan where my son was working for the day.
Fortunately I had a little extra time because I accidentally round myself on the wrong train. Luckily, I soon discovered my mistake and was able to get off and switch to another train that delivered me within blocks of my destination.
I walked from the station up Lexington Avenue looking for a restaurant where my son and I might meet to eat. At 62nd I turned to head over to Park Avenue and then up towards 63rd Avenue. I saw the building where my son was working but no restaurants or cafes. So I started back towards Lexington. I hadn’t quite gotten to Lexington when a sign on a wall caught my eye. “Maurice Sendak Exhibition and Sale,” it read. The poster featured an illustration I recognized from the Sendak’s classic children’s book, “In the Night Kitchen.”
Curious, I opened the red door, stepped inside 128 E. 63rd and found myself at the Museum of Illustration. The museum, founded in 1981, is the home of the Society of Illustrators, established in 1901 to promote the art of illustration. Its membership has included such illustrious artists as N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish and Norman Rockwell, among others. The five-story townhouse was purchased in 1939 by the society for its headquarters and over several years was renovated to create offices for the society, two galleries and a bookstore on its lower floors for special exhibitions and programs and on the third floor a lounge and library for its membership. In the 1960s, that space was converted into a handsome bar and a cozy but airy dining room that, I discovered, is open to the public from noon to 3 p.m. for lunch.
It was an ideal spot for my lunch with my son and sent him a message to join me there. In the meantime, I walked into the main gallery where the works of illustrator Maurice Sendak were on display. Sendak is regarded by many as “the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century,” according to the New York Times. “Where the Wild Things Are” and “The Night Kitchen” were two of the best read books on my sons shelf when they were growing up so it was a treat to see Sendak’s original sketches, watercolors and ink drawings in this special exhibition. More than one hundred pieces hung on the walls representing some of Sendaks’ rarest work from his books, theatre designs and commercial assignments. Incredibly, all of them were for sale but at prices beyond my pocketbook.
I hadn’t quite finished viewing the entire exhibit when my son came in. Given his limited 30-minute time for lunch, we went directly upstairs to the bistro, took a table and quickly ordered. I chose the Cobb salad which was fresh and delicious and reasonable. Halfway through my meal, Tim received an alert on his phone from a friend.
“Where’s your meeting?” he asked referring to my appointment that afternoon. I told him. “You’re not going there,” he said firmly. The area, he explained, had been placed on ‘lock down’ when pipe bombs, delivered to various locations throughout the city, had been discovered.
With my meeting postponed, I suddenly had two free hours. I decided since I was already there, and somewhere safe, to spend the afternoon at the museum and its relaxing bistro. I went back to the Sendak exhibit and finished looking at the Sendak exhibit. Then I worked my way up the artwork hanging on the stairway wall to the narrow halls of the second floor where illustrations by the members and now in the society’s permanent collection of 2,500 were
displayed. Magazine illustrations, comic books drawings and cartoons was included.
I returned to the third floor bistro so I could have a closer look at the Norman Rockwell mural that permanently hangs over the bar in the lounge and the illustrations from Mad Magazine and E.C. Comics in the Tales from the Crypt special exhibit. A number of the bold, strongly stylized black and white comic book illustrations came from horror titles, appropriate since Halloween was just around the corner. Weird Fantasy, Weird Science, Vault of Horror, Tales from the Crypt were among the comic book titles represented. The illustrations were detailed, gory and violent in some. Their graphic-ness disturbed some when they first appeared but their creators were also pointing out hypocrisy, prejudice and inhumanity. More than 70 pen and ink drawings from the 1950s by some of the genres most celebrated comic artists were on view. I took my time examining each and reading the extensive commentary written by the curator Rob Pistella.
The afternoon went by quickly. Before I knew it, it was time for me to leave for my appointment rescheduled from earlier that day. My plans had taken a sudden turn and given me the unexpected time to spend in this little unassuming New York museum. In future trips, I’ll check the museum’s calendar and gladly return to the bistro for another lunch.