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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In a New York City apartment on Central Park West, two children snuggled into their beds each night beneath a mural - in fact, the only one painted by the beloved author and illustrator Maurice Sendak.

It shows a parade of characters: a little white dog, followed by a boy with a drum, a boy playing a bugle, a red bird, an inquisitive-looking lion holding an umbrella in his tail, a lady in a red dress leading a bear in a top hat, all parading beneath a russet sun.

Sendak painted that mural 50 years ago, and now those two children, both in their 50s, have donated it to the Rosenbach Museum and Library, which holds Sendak's other work.

We're going to hear from brother and sister Nina and Larry Chertoff in a moment. Earlier, though, I spoke with Maurice Sendak about painting that mural back in 1961.

Mr. MAURICE SENDAK (Artist): Fifty years ago. It seems quite incredible to me, one, that I'm still living and can talk about it. And two, it doesn't seem to possible that it was that long ago. But, you know, that's what we all say. It was that long ago.

Nina, a little girl, a darling little girl, and her brother Larry, a darling little boy, and it was their room, and I was painting a mural on their wall, the one and only mural I have ever done. Obviously, I've never been asked again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Now, you've done everything. You've done books. You've done opera sets. So it's just somebody neglected to offer you a mural.

Mr. SENDAK: That is true. If they'd asked, who knows what I would have said.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SENDAK: Oh, God, it was a happy time in my life. It's amazing how I remember the time, and I remember what it felt like, and I remember the kids running in and out of the room. And they grew up to be really nice people, and they were awfully nice kids, and we did have a lot of fun.

SIEGEL: But how many days do you think it took you to paint this mural in the kids' room?

Mr. SENDAK: I don't know.

SIEGEL: Don't know.

Mr. SENDAK: I don't remember.

SIEGEL: It was not a day, from the looks of it.

Mr. SENDAK: No, no, it was not a day. I had to come back. And also, I had never painted a mural before and I did not know how to paint a mural. I did not know how to prepare the surface. There was nobody from the Renaissance around who could advise me, and I did the best I could.

SIEGEL: That's one of the biggest problems with those Renaissance artists, they don't hang around.

Mr. SENDAK: They don't hang around. They're very snotty people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Sendak, it's a delight to talk to you once again, and the mural, from - I'm looking at it online - just looks terrific.

Mr. SENDAK: Well, thank you, and nice to talk to you, too.

SIEGEL: That's author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, earlier today. And now to Nina and Larry Chertoff, who grew up with that mural in their bedroom and who join us from our bureau in New York. Welcome to the program.

Ms. NINA CHERTOFF: Thank you.

Mr. LARRY CHERTOFF: Thanks, it's great to be here.

SIEGEL: And do you both remember the mural being painted?

Mr. CHERTOFF: Oh, definitely. I was about six. Nina was about four.

Ms. CHERTOFF: Yeah, we watched him, and I remember playing with the paints and walking on the paper. It was very exciting.

Mr. CHERTOFF: It really was and, you know, he was very sensitive to the, sort of the quality of light in the room. So he would come and do, you know, most of the painting during the day, but he would do some in the evening, as well. So I have very lovely memories of sort of that being a lullaby of Maurice's beautiful gestures as he was painting...

Ms. CHERTOFF: Right.

Mr. CHERTOFF: ...and as we would go to sleep.

SIEGEL: Did it occur to the two of you when you were little kids that your friends might have had pictures hanging on the wall or perhaps wallpaper but not a mural painted in their bedroom, that this was unusual?

Mr. CHERTOFF: I got to say, we did kind of take it for granted. I never really compared it to anything that my friends had. It was just a very natural thing that happened.

SIEGEL: Tell me about actually moving this. This - it's still actually on the wall, or it was actually on the wall. Did you actually have to take the wall down and move it to Philadelphia?

Ms. CHERTOFF: Well, we didn't actually do that. We - I spoke with the Rosenbach Museum and Library, and they hired some conservators to very carefully move it and took this, you know, two-ton piece of wall to Philadelphia. It's really quite amazing.

SIEGEL: I'm impressed that the mural survived in such good shape. You know, the proper amount of steam heat in New York can be considerably warmer than many other people might expect. And two kids growing up, there could be tennis balls hit against a bedroom wall or a basketball, you know, these are normal things.

Ms. CHERTOFF: Indeed there were. Pinky ball, right?

Mr. CHERTOFF: Yeah, it survived very well. And, you know, Maurice came back over the years because I believe it was done with an acrylic type of paint and, you know, the paint was flecking off in certain spots.

You paint your apartment every eight or 10 years or so. And I remember being a kid and saying to my folks: Gee, you know, when we pain the room, paint around the mural. Don't try to house-paint in between the characters.

But that didn't always happen, and we had some really good painters, and some of them, you know...

Ms. CHERTOFF: Were less good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHERTOFF: Some of them took the initiative and sort of painted in between. From what I understand, the Rosenbachs have figured out a method of getting rid of the house paint and sort of reducing it back to its original state.

SIEGEL: So did you ever reach a point when you were teenagers when this younger child's mural and the lovely lion, when it seemed a little childish to you, and perhaps you wanted something a little more...

Mr. CHERTOFF: You know, I did go through that a little bit but only a little bit because I loved the thing so much.

SIEGEL: Nina, did you ever feel that, this was...

Ms. CHERTOFF: Actually, my focus pretty much all along was on the fact that the umbrella had our names on it. The umbrella that the lion is holding with his tail had the name Larry and Nina on it.

SIEGEL: Oh, yes, I'm looking at that right now.

Ms. CHERTOFF: And I always was focused on the fact that Larry's name was first.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHERTOFF: And so, the rest was very peripheral to me. I'm still thinking about that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHERTOFF: It's true. It's really true.

SIEGEL: So a half a century, and there are some things that still rankle.

Ms. CHERTOFF: Never change.

SIEGEL: Never change.

Mr. CHERTOFF: I'm a little defensive about the umbrella. I keep going back to maybe it was alphabetical order or maybe because I was born first, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHERTOFF: Well, I think that when he was playing ball with the pinky ball with his friends, they were actually aiming at the Nina on the umbrella. That's what I think.

SIEGEL: Throwing the Spalding at the Nina on the wall.

Ms. CHERTOFF: Yes.

Mr. CHERTOFF: We did throw the Spalding but it was between the characters, really, it was not...

Ms. CHERTOFF: Yeah, yeah.

SIEGEL: Well, Larry Chertoff and Nina Chertoff, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. CHERTOFF: Sure thing.

Ms. CHERTOFF: Our pleasure.

SIEGEL: The Chertoffs, brother and sister, grew up with the only mural Maurice Sendak ever painted in their bedroom. They have donated it to the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia in memory of their parents, Rosalyn(ph) and Lionel(ph) Chertoff. And you can see photos of the mural, including a close-up of that umbrella, at npr.org.

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