J’adore: Maira Kalman’s Obsessions

Artist, writer, and designer Maira Kalman shares her obsessions.


Artist, writer, and designer Maira Kalman spent much of 2009 on what might best be described as an extended seventh-grade field trip, visiting the Supreme Court, Monticello, an army base, and other uniquely American sites to learn about the roots of our democracy. Her new book, And the Pursuit of Happiness, tells the story of that journey in words, photographs, and the delightfully idiosyncratic illustrations that have won her a devoted following. Here, Kalman fills us in on her other obsessions.

Robert Walser

“A Swiss author who wrote at the turn of the 20th century, Walser spent the last 25 years of his life in mental institutions. I adore his writing and thinking and persona, and have done a painting of him lying dead in the snow. Walser’s work is the closest thing to the truth about the human condition—the complexity of not knowing and wishing to know, the tragedy and humor of trying to find out what it is we’re doing while we are alive. These are struggles that go on forever.”

Grapefruit sorbet

“The freshest taste—I can’t get enough of it. Cones, on Bleecker Street in New York, makes a great one; and Ciao Bella, on Mott Street, does a really good grapefruit Campari.”

The Countess of Castiglione

“She was a crazy socialite who became Napoleon’s mistress and wore stupendous costumes and documented herself with tons of photography. A divine book called La Divine Comtesse collects these photographs. It’s out of print but obtainable on AbeBooks or through other, antiquarian booksellers.”

Letter writing

“I have pale-blue stationery—Vergé de France by G. Lalo, which is available in most any stationery store—and I either type on my Brother typewriter or write with a steel-nib-and-wooden penholder that I buy at New York Central Art Supply, a great place on Third Avenue.”

Pina Bausch

“Her ballets were often the high point of the year for me. Bausch called her work tanztheater, or dance theater, and it combined fashion, music, dreams, madness, and literature. She died last year, but a piece she created in 2006, Vollmond, debuts at Brooklyn Academy of Music in late September.”

Sweeping in Central Park

“Cleaning your city is a great and noble thing to do. The Central Park Conservancy has a number of different volunteering options.”