Maira Kalman – And the Pursuit of Happiness

Does this painting of George Washington’s dining room romance you the way it romances me? Maria Kalman’s words and illustrations have a way of doing that.

Drawn from her New York Times blog of the same name, Kalman’s new book, And the Pursuit of Happiness, lends American history a little panache. To meditate on democracy and Americans’ present-day pursuit of happiness, Kalman freely mixes photographs, drawings, portraits, historical documents, and her own observations. While creativity abounds, the book isn’t without structure: It consists of 12 sections, one for each month of the year, with a historic figure serving as the mascot for each chapter. (George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and Dolly Madison are all on the roster.)

Kalman does talk about war and revolution, but And the Pursuit of Happiness also revels in the beauty of small, everyday gifts. The rambly, endearing narrative leads you to a sewage plant’s beautiful lights display; the cherry pie at a military base; and where Ruth Bader Ginsberg buys her judicial collars.

In the image below, we see a passage from Tristram Shandy that Thomas Jefferson and his wife, Martha, copied together on her deathbed. Thanks to Kalman, we have a chance to watch history exquisitely come to life.



  1. Emmy · January 17, 2011

    A beautiful and moving post. And the painting is brilliant!

    • ebenbow · January 21, 2011

      Thanks, Emmy! That Mt. Vernon painting served as my desktop wallpaper for a good three or four months at least. 🙂

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