Master of the Month :: Maira Kalman

Maira Kalman by Rama Hughes

it’s been a while since my last post cuz i just started teaching at a new school. i’m finally on top of my to-do list though and i thought you all might enjoy one of the things that i provide for my students: a master of the month. (portraits by yours truly.)

Maira Kalman was born in Tel Aviv, Israel in 1949. She moved to New York City with her family when she was four years old. She attended the High School of Music and Art, made famous by the movie, Fame. She wanted to write short stories. So, she studied English in college at New York University.

Mrs. Kalman helped her husband, Tibor, found a graphic design company in 1979. Their studio, M&Co. was very successful. Some of their pieces can even be seen at the Museum of Modern Art. Tibor was the star and Maira was the “in house muse.” They designed album covers, magazines, film titles, clocks, umbrellas, and more. They accomplished all this while raising their two children, Lulu Bodoni and Alexander.
Mrs. Kalman also worked as an illustrator. In 1987, she illustrated a children’s book for David Byrne. He is the lead singer of a band, the Talking Heads. Their book, Stay Up Late, launched her career as a book artist. A year later, she published her own book, Hey Willy, See the Pyramids. The book played with words and pictures. Kids and parents liked it so much that it started a new kind of children’s book: The expressive picture book.

The big hero of Maira Kalman’s books is a dog named Max. Her stories about him won lots of awards. Mrs. Kalman also wrote and illustrated Chicken Soup, Boots (about finding the perfect job); Next Stop Grand Central (based on murals she created for New York’s Grand Central Station); What Pete Ate From A-Z (a story about her own dog, Pete) and Fireboat (about an old fireboat that helped stop the fires in New York on Sept. 11, 2001). Each book celebrates Mrs. Kalman’s love for New York City. They also tell a little bit of her own autobiography.

Before her husband died in 1999, Maira curated Tiborocity, a museum exhibition about his life’s work. She drew a beautiful story for New York Magazine about Tibor’s last days. She continued many of the projects that they began together like (un)Fashion, a book about world-wide fashion, and Colors, a magazine that Mr. Kalman founded. Mrs. Kalman still runs M&Co.

Maira Kalman lives and works today in New York City. Her paintings are sold in galleries. She writes and draws for The New Yorker and The New York Times. She speaks on public radio. She paints murals. She designs handbags. She creates sets for dances and operas. She teaches at School of Visual Arts. She is on the board of the American Institute of Graphic Arts. Kalman illustrated The Elements of Style, a textbook for writers. Her illustrated blog, The Principles of Uncertainty, was recently published as a book. You can find her artwork online at

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Posted by admin on 09/28/08 under artists

  • Irisz

    And they have Hungarian names (Kalman, Tibor) !
    Do you know anything about the family, when did they move to abroad?

  • Alisa

    She was amazingly prolific. I only have ambitions to accomplish half of what she did.

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