The Elements of Style is a grammar reference book originally published by William Strunk Jr. in 1918. It was edited by E.B. White in 1959, whose edition popularized the text. Kalman, a well-known designer, author, illustrator and artist, adapted the book with her own playfully irreverent illustrations of the book’s grammatical rules and phrases. It has since become one of her most well-received projects.
She discovered the book in 2002 while at a used bookstore, finding it amusing and subject to visual interpretation. The illustrations in the series depict humorous interpretations of the text: for example, one image depicts a guilty-looking basset hound using one of the book’s grammatical phrases, “Well, Susan, this is a fine mess you’re in.”
Tony Marx, New York Public Library President and Claudia Gould, The Jewish Museum’s Helen Goldsmith Menschel Director, both praised Kalman’s work and espoused their excitement in obtaining the full collection. “We are so proud to partner with The Jewish Museum to acquire the 50-plus paintings from this significant contemporary work,which exemplifies the very nature of what happens in our research libraries every day: primary sources being used to create new works,” said Marx told Broadway World.
Gould had similar sentiments. “This is the first time that the Jewish Museum has collaborated with another institution on a major acquisition,” she said. “The joint acquisition with The New York Public Library of Kalman’s paintings for The Elements of Style allows us to significantly expand our holdings of Kalman’s work with this witty, incisive series by a unique illustrator, artist, and author.”
Kalman commented, “Since I am Jewish and since I adore libraries, isn’t it thrilling that these two glorious institutions share the work. I make books. And I make art. The works are the intersection of these, mixed with a great dollop of curiosity. In a kind of Talmudic manner, I think E.B. White would be pleased. Doesn’t it all make complete wonderful sense!”
The Jewish Museum exhibited a retrospective of Kalman’s work in 2011 titled Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World), organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia. The Jewish Museum’s collection also includes six works on paper by Kalman, and commissioned her in 2014 to create a mural for Russ & Daughters, the Jewish Museum’s restaurant. It was finished in 2015 and titled In This Life, There Was Very Much.
The New York Public Library named Kalman a Library Lion in 2015 for her contributions to the city and the creative community. She is currently working on illustrations for a book about libraries, which will be published in partnership with Macmillan Publishers and the Library.
Kalman’s The Elements of Style illustration series was showcased in its entirety for the first time in 2017 at the Julie Saul Gallery. Kalman has previously sold individual works from collections before, but made the decision to keep the series as a single body of work.
Maira Kalman was born in Tel Aviv in 1949 and moved to New York when she was four. She currently lives in Manhattan. Kalman has published 18 children’s books, writing and illustrating most of them herself, and is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker. She is currently working on an illustrated column for The New Yorker based on her travels to museums and libraries. She is currently represented by the Julie Saul Gallery.
The New York Public Library is a provider of education and information for the people of New York City. There are 92 locations throughout the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, offering free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming and more. They serve more than 18 million patrons annually, and millions more through online resources.
The Jewish Museum is a unique hub for art and Jewish culture, accessible to people of all backgrounds. It is one of the oldest Jewish museums in the world, and the first institution of its kind in the United States. The Museum offers a wide variety of programs and exhibitions, with nearly 30,000 works of art, ceremonial objects and media in their collection, spanning over 4,000 years of history.