HARTFORD, Conn. — Three years after Maurice Sendak's death, his western Connecticut hometown of Ridgefield is pursuing a museum honoring the author of "Where the Wild Things Are."
The town has its sights on a vacant modernist building in walking distance from the village center, a glass structure designed by acclaimed architect Philip Johnson as corporate offices for an oil exploration company that left in 2006.
A panel of local arts figures recently received endorsement from the town and Sendak's foundation to explore the proposal. Members say they have found overwhelming support for the idea to honor a man whose influence went far beyond that of a children's book author.
"The fact is, he loved the community, and the legacy of supporting all the arts was and is important to him and all those around him," said Lloyd Taft, a local architect.
The 45-acre campus of the energy services company Schlumberger, including the proposed museum site, was acquired by Ridgefield in 2012 for $7 million. On Tuesday, town voters approved the sale of 10 of the acres for residential construction, returning $4.3 million to the town. The first selectman, Rudy Marconi, said the sale could help the museum proposal by giving planners flexibility on decisions regarding the rest of the property.
Sendak, who died in May 2012 at the age of 83, was born in New York City but spent the last four decades of his life in rural Ridgefield. Best known for the tale of naughty Max in "Wild Things," his work included other standard volumes in children's bedrooms such as "Chicken Soup With Rice," a book about the different months in a year, and "Brundibar," a folk tale about two children who need to earn enough money to buy milk for their sick mother. He also illustrated his own work, created costumes for ballets and staged operas, including the Czech opera "Brundibar."
His 18th-century farmhouse is being preserved as Sendak left it.
"That is going to stay just the way it is and be a study center and a place for scholars, artists and others to see how Sendak worked during his lifetime," said Donald Hamburg, a New York attorney who is a member of the Maurice Sendak Foundation's board.
Some of Sendak's works were housed at the Rosenbach museum and library in Philadelphia. The artwork has been reclaimed based on instructions in Sendak's will, but the request has become tangled in litigation that Hamburg declined to discuss.
Given the location of Sendak's home in a wooded area, the foundation has sought a more accessible place for the public display of his artwork, manuscripts and other ephemera.
Marconi said the town knew all along it wanted to preserve the Philip Johnson building and an adjoining auditorium, and after Sendak's death, many in the affluent town of 25,000 people on the New York line had the same idea to use it as a Sendak museum. The building has skylights over main circulation areas and despite a few roof leaks is considered to be in decent shape despite being vacant for so long.