I first came across illustrator Maira Kalman’s work two years ago when I was gifted Girls Standing on Lawns. The book, a collection of found photos and original illustrations and vignettes, served as an introduction to her witty, unfettered, and insatiably curious world. Over the course of her career, Maira has written/illustrated 18 children’s books and 13 books for adults, in addition to creating content for The New Yorker, running two monthly online columns for The New York Times, and curating exhibitions for the likes of the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum.
Maira’s work blurs the boundary between storytelling and visual art, objective journalism and personal narrative. She takes inspiration from the minutia of daily life, giving importance and vibrance to the details most people overlook. Perhaps this is what draws us at Storyhouse to her work—the ability to find beauty in the banal. Much like Maira’s illustrations, the families who use our services, seek to capture and preserve those stories that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.
Thank you so much to Maira Kalman for taking the time to answer a few questions about your storytelling process and sharing a few family memories!
1. Both My Favorite Things and Girls Standing on Lawns examine the objects/photos that inhabit stories. What is a treasured family photo/object and why do you value it?
There are a few photos of my mother that I adore. She represents a kind of fresh smart beauty that just infuses me with joy.
2. How do you choose which stories to tell and which to discard?
Usually as stories and events go through my mind, some surface more often and seem more vital. I am going by my instinct. If something amazes or amuses me, then I listen to that voice.
3. Is there a family story you hope to illustrate or wish you had captured?
I keep returning to the family gatherings from my childhood. Sitting around a table at lunch. Everyone talking or not talking.
Everyone eating, of course. And then everyone staggering to a bed for a nap. I would like to capture those moments. Also, there is the story of when I got lost at the age of 18 months. I had wandered away in Tel Aviv and they were looking for me for hours. I can only imagine the terror that my mother felt.
4. Much of your work has mentioned your mother and you have credited her with influencing your creative sensibilities. Could you share a bit more about the impact she has had on your work?
I cannot underestimate the influence she had on me. She allowed me tremendous freedom in what I did. She always said that I had to make my own mistakes. And that sense of being loved unconditionally and being trusted (how did she do that?) was very liberating. I felt protected through all sorrows. Plus, all the women in the family were good storytellers. She was the funniest.
For more on Maira’s story, check out her Ted Talk.