The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats




 First Major U.S. Exhibition Pays Tribute to Award-Winning Author and Illustrator

Exhibition Marks 50th Anniversary of The Snowy Day which Paved the Way for Multiracial Representation in American Children’s Literature

November 15, 2012–February 24, 2013

San Francisco, CA, September 15, 2012—The Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) presents The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats, the first major United States exhibition to pay tribute to award-winning author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats (1916–1983), whose beloved children’s books include Whistle for Willie (1964), Peter’s Chair (1967), and The Snowy Day (1962). Published at the height of the American civil-rights movement and winner of the prestigious Caldecott Medal, The Snowy Day became a milestone, featuring the first African American protagonist in a full-color picture book. The Snowy Day went on to inspire generations of readers, and paved the way for multiracial representation in American children’s literature. Also pioneering were the dilapidated urban settings of Keats’s stories. Picture books had rarely featured such gritty landscapes before.

The exhibition features over eighty original works from preliminary sketches and dummy books, to final paintings and collages for the artist’s most popular books. Also on view are examples of Keats’s most introspective, but less-known work inspired by nature, Asian art, and haiku poetry, as well as documentary material and photographs. The exhibition, organized by The Jewish Museum in New York, is part of a wide-scale celebration of the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Snowy Day.

To coincide with the exhibition, Penguin Young Readers Group has published The Snowy Day: 50th Anniversary Special Edition (Viking Children’s Books; $19.99; Ages 5–8), a special edition of the beloved classic featuring eight pages of bonus material that include photographs of Ezra Jack Keats and some of Keats’s early sketches for the book.


Ezra Jack Keats was born Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz in Brooklyn in 1916. His parents were Eastern European Jewish immigrants and very poor. Although he briefly studied painting in Paris on the GI Bill after serving in World War II, Keats was primarily self-taught. He drew upon memories of growing up in East New York, one of the most deprived neighborhoods of New York City. Keats’s experience of anti-Semitism and poverty in his youth gave him a lifelong sympathy for others who suffered prejudice and want. His work transcends the personal and reflects the universal concerns of children.

Keats used lush color in his paintings and collages and strove for simplicity in his texts. He was often more intent on capturing a mood than developing a plot. His preferred format was the horizontal double-page spread, which freed him to alternate close-up scenes with panoramic views. By the end of his life in 1983, he had illustrated over eighty books, most of them for children, twenty-two of which he also authored.

The Exhibition

The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats explores Keats’s multifaceted oeuvre in six sections preceded by an introduction and followed by an epilogue.

The introductory gallery presents a selection of works that can be construed as self-portraits of the artist. Throughout his career Keats often cast himself in his work posing as different characters, from the immigrant violinist János in Penny Tunes and Princesses (1972) to the exuberant junkman Barney in Louie’s Search (1980).

“Coming of Age in Brooklyn” features seminal works inspired by memories of Keats’s tenement childhood, including a selection of illustrations for Apt. 3 (1971), showcasing some of his most painterly spreads. Also on view are final drawings for Dreams (1974), where color travels out of the Brooklyn windows and into the night as the tenement’s inhabitants begin to dream and darkness turns into incandescence. Keats’s combination of paint and marbled paper reaches a pinnacle in these illustrations. The artist’s lengthy preoccupation with Louie, protagonist of some of Keats’s most autobiographic stories, is examined in this section through a series of illustrations for Louie (1975), The Trip (1978), Louie’s Search (1980), and Regards to the Man in the Moon (1981).

In “Bringing the Background to the Foreground,” the artist’s early identification with the downtrodden is reflected in his 1934 award-winning painting, Shantytown. Created by young Keats during the Depression, it is being shown along with other socially committed works. In order to express the significance of The Snowy Day within the history of American children’s literature, an exhibition case is devoted to a brief survey of African American representation in children’s books throughout the twentieth century. Illustrations for My Dog is Lost! (1960), coauthored by Keats and Pat Cherr, about a Puerto Rican boy named Juanito, are also on display. This is Keats’s first attempt to correct the problems of representation in children’s literature at the time and cast a minority child as protagonist. This pioneering move likely paved the way for his creation of Peter of The Snowy Day fame.

“The Snowy Day” section presents a wide selection of illustrations for the 1962 landmark book as well as for Whistle for Willie (1964) and Peter’s Chair (1967) featuring Peter as he grows up. The Snowy Day’s critical reception and debate sparked by its publication is also examined.

“Peter’s Neighborhood” includes a rich selection of images for three of Keats’s greatly loved books: A Letter to Amy (1968), Hi Cat! (1970), and Pet Show! (1972), featuring Peter on his way to becoming a teenage boy, as well as his friend Archie, who takes on more of a central role as Peter grows older. The selected illustrations are filled with Keats’s signature elements—abandoned old doors, overflowing garbage cans, trashed umbrellas, and graffitied walls; the background elements the artist was committed to bringing to the foreground in his books. A reading room for visitors of all ages inspired by Peter’s neighborhood and Brooklyn tenement brownstone stoops complements this section.

Keats’s most introspective work is the focus of the “Spirituality, Nature, and Asian Art” section. On display are illustrations for In a Spring Garden (1965), an anthology of haiku poems, with silhouetted animals set against skies of marbled paper; and his sumptuous art for Over in the Meadow (1971), combining watercolor and collage. A preparatory drawing for The Giant Turnip, a Russian folktale that Keats chose to illustrate as a Japanese story, is also on view. The book was nearing completion at the time of the artist’s death in 1983.

In “Keats at Work,” Keats’s actual palette, brushes, materials used in his collages, and samples of marbled paper he created for his illustrations are displayed. In addition, visitors can view a film in which the artist demonstrates the technique of creating marbled paper, and other illustrators and authors who knew Keats comment on his wide-ranging influence.

The exhibition ends with concluding illustrations for four Louie books first examined at the beginning of the show. These books, done by Keats late in life, bring him back full circle to where it all began: his old Brooklyn neighborhood. The four spreads provide a moving epilogue to the show, including the last illustration from Regards to the Man in the Moon (1981), published two years before Keats’s death, the first and only known instance in which he cast himself as an artist, brush in hand.

Family Activities

To complement the presentation of Keats’s original work, the CJM is adding several hands on, family friendly activities to the exhibition including an opportunity to create a personal story and add it to an ongoing journal of visitors’ stories, as well as a chance to experiment with collage in the manner of Keats. Using patterns and fabric, families are encouraged to think about abstraction, composition, and how to articulate one’s own narrative visually.

Ezra Jack Keats Bookmaking Competition for SFUSD Students

The CJM, the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, and San Francisco Unified School District announce the first ever Ezra Jack Keats bookmaking competition on the West Coast. The competition promotes the art and craft of original bookmaking in the classroom, and students in grades K–12 are invited to design, write, and create their own books. Winning books will be showcased and will receive prizes. Schools interested in participating in this competition may visit for more information.

The Snowy Day and The Art of Ezra Jack Keats is organized by The Jewish Museum, New York, from the collection of the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection, The University of Southern Mississippi.  The exhibition was funded at The Jewish Museum through a generous grant from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.  Additional support was provided by the Joseph Alexander Foundation, the Alfred J. Grunebaum Memorial Fund, and the Winnick Family Foundation.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum presentation is made possible with the Lead Support of the Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund. Supporting sponsorship is provided by the Mimi and Peter Haas Fund. Additional support is provided by Dana Corvin and Harris Weinberg. In Kind support provided by Penguin Young Readers Group. The Koret and Taube Foundations are the Lead Supporters of the 2012/13 exhibition season.



Drop-In Art-Making: Collage, Watercolor, and Marble with Keats

Sundays, Nov 18, 25 and Dec 2, 9, 16, 23, 30; Thursday, Dec 27; Fridays, Nov 23 and Dec 28; Monday, Dec 31 | 1–3pm

FREE with regular admission

Delve into the world of The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats as you explore Keats-inspired art techniques including collage, watercolor, and marble paper. Plus, contribute to an ongoing Keats community mural every time you visit.

Family Gallery Tours

Sundays, Nov 18, 25 and Dec 9, 23, 30; Fridays, Nov 23 and Dec 28; Monday, Dec 31 | 11:30am–12:15pm; Thursday, Dec 27, 1:30–2:15pm

FREE with regular admission

Experience the world of color and collage in this interactive tour of The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats designed for families with children up to age nine. With hands-on experiential activities, Keats and his groundbreaking work reaches a whole new generation of readers and art-lovers.

Ezra Jack Keats Story Time at SFPL

Thursday, Nov 15 | 1–8pm

Celebrate the opening of The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats with the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL). Visit for participating branches. Then afterwards, present your SFPL program sticker at the CJM for free admission on Thursday, Nov 15 only!

Keats on the Big Screen

Fridays, Nov 23 and Dec 28; Sunday, Dec 30; Monday, Dec 31 | 12–1pm; Thursday, Dec 27 | 3–4pm

FREE with regular admission

Watch Ezra Jack Keats’s stories come to life on the big screen, featuring animated versions of favorite classics including The Snowy Day, Whistle for Willie, and Peter’s Chair.

CJM Community Day, Sponsored by Target


Tuesday, Dec 25 | 11am–4pm

Free Museum admission all day

CJM Community Day, sponsored by Target, is an admission-free, fun-for-all extravaganza. In celebration of The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats, visitors can tour all Museum galleries, make their own cityscape book bags, contribute to a Keats Community Mural, play I Spy Museum Bingo, and listen to the sweet sounds of Octopretzel with three performances throughout the day.


Teacher Preview for The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats and Bookmaking Workshop

Thursday, Nov 15 | 4–8pm

Reception free for teachers (advance reservations encouraged)

Workshop for teachers $18 (includes refreshments and a bookmaking resource packet); advance tickets required

Participate in tours, learn about opportunities for your school to visit the exhibition, and have a nosh.  Then, stay for a workshop with illustrator and educator Peter Linenthal to learn bookmaking techniques for your classroom. First ten teachers to register for the bookmaking workshop receive a free Ezra Jack Keats book!

4–6:30pm        Teacher Reception: Exhibition Tours, Resources, and Refreshments

5–8pm             Teacher Bookmaking Workshop with Peter Linenthal


Exhibition Catalog

The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats, a 104-page exhibition catalog published by The Jewish Museum and Yale University Press, includes eighty color and three black-and-white illustrations, essays by exhibition curator Claudia Nahson and consulting curator Maurice Berger, and an illustrated timeline by Emily Casden and Ms. Nahson. The hardcover book will be available in the Museum store for $27.50.

About the Contemporary Jewish Museum

With the opening of its new building on June 8, 2008, the Contemporary Jewish Museum ushered in a new chapter in its twenty-plus year history of engaging audiences and artists in exploring contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. The facility, designed by internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, is a lively center where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather to experience art, share diverse perspectives, and engage in hands-on activities. Inspired by the Hebrew phrase “L’Chaim” (To Life), the building is a physical embodiment of the CJM’s mission to bring together tradition and innovation in an exploration of the Jewish experience in the twenty-first century.

Major support for the Contemporary Jewish Museum comes from the Koret and Taube Foundations, who are the Lead Supporters of the 2012/13 exhibition season. The Museum also thanks the Jim Joseph Foundation for its major support of innovative strategies for educating and engaging audiences in Jewish learning. Additional major support is provided by the Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund; Bank of America; Institute of Museum and Library Services; Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund; Columbia Foundation; Walter and Elise Haas Fund; Gaia Fund; The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; Osterweis Capital Management; The Skirball Foundation; Target; and the Alexander M. and June L. Maisin Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund. The Museum also receives major support from the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, and Sonoma Counties.

For more information about the Contemporary Jewish Museum, visit the Museum’s website at

For media information or visuals visit our online press gallery or please contact:

Contemporary Jewish Museum

Nina Sazevich
Public Relations
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Melanie Samay
Marketing & Communications Associate
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


General Information

The Museum is open daily (except Wednesday) 11am–5pm and Thursday, 1–8pm. Museum admission is $12.00 for adults, $10.00 for students and senior citizens with a valid ID, and $5 on Thursdays after 5pm. Youth 18 and under always get in free. For general information on the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the public may visit the Museum’s web site at or call 415.655.7800. The Contemporary Jewish Museum is located at 736 Mission Street (between 3rd & 4th streets), San Francisco. 


736 Mission Street (btwn. 3rd and 4th Streets), San Francisco, CA 94103 | Hours: Daily 11am–5pm, Thursdays 11am–8pm, Closed Wednesdays | 415.655.7800 |