Maira Kalman Selects

inside of an old watch, gold in color, with lots of casually engraved inscriptions inside, as if no one were intended to see them

About Maira Kalman Selects

On view from December 12, 2014 to June 7, 2015

For this exhibition, author, artist, and designer Maira Kalman fills the former first-floor Drawing Room of the Carnegie Mansion, with 40 objects from Cooper Hewitt, the National Museum of American History, and her personal collection to suggest the journey of a life story, from birth through death.

Kalman is best known for her whimsical take on modern life. Here, she explores the human condition, presenting objects that create a picture of daily life as she sees it and lives it.

In her words, the exhibition is about “falling in love with a group of objects”; “the preciousness of time”; and the realization that “many of the most important memories in your life will be populated by the most seemingly unimportant objects. A chair. A bowl.”

And what does she suggest you do when you enter the exhibition? Just look. And listen. “To wander about in a room in a museum and to have the fluttery feeling of discovery and potential,” she says, “is a great feeling.”

Two new books authored and illustrated by Kalman complement the exhibition: My Favorite Things includes 50 images—some drawings, some photographs—based on the objects she selected for the exhibition, while the illustrations in the ABC book Ah–Ha to Zig–Zag celebrate thirty-one objects from Cooper Hewitt’s collection.

Some of the items on view include:

• Stockings, shoes, a hat, a teapot, samplers, and porcelain figures of ballet dancers
• Vintage editions of Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh
• The Gerrit Rietfeld Zig Zag chair (ca. 1934) and handkerchief memorializing Queen Victoria
• Abraham Lincoln’s funeral pall and gold pocket watch

Recorded sounds of the ticking pocket watch, which a master watchmaker repaired and briefly returned to working order, can be heard in the gallery.


Painting of a dog figurine. The dog has black eyebrows. Hand-drawn lettering says Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag above the dog.

Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag: 31 Objects from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum is the 48-page catalog for this exhibition. Published by Skira Rizzoli. List price $17.95.


Painting of two men standing on a beach.

My Favorite Things, published by HarperCollins, offers a poignant, witty and highly personal meditation on the importance of objects, both quotidian and unusual, through more than fifty original paintings and Maira Kalman’s signature handwritten prose. List price $35.00.

Explore all the objects in the exhibition through our online collection interface.


Maira Kalman Selects is made possible by the Marks Family Foundation Endowment Fund.

Featured Image: Pocket watch, used by Abraham Lincoln. Interior, showing inscription.