Children & Youth

The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats

Nov 15, 2012–Feb 24, 2013

The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats is the first major exhibition in the United States 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), andThe Snowy Day (1962)—the first modern full-color picture book to feature an African American protagonist. Published in 1962, at the height of the civil rights movement in America, the book went on to become an inspiration for generations of readers, transforming children’s literature forever. The exhibition features over eighty original works by the artist, from preliminary sketches and dummies or preparatory books, to final paintings and collages, including examples of Keats’ most introspective but less-known output inspired by Asian art and poetry.

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about ezra jack keats

The author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats was born Jacob Ezra Katz in Brooklyn in 1916. His parents were Eastern European Jewish immigrants and very poor. Primarily self-taught, he drew upon memories of growing up in East New York, one of the most deprived neighborhoods in the city. Yet his work transcends the personal and reflects the universal concerns of children. Keats’s experience of anti-Semitism and poverty in his youth gave him a lifelong sympathy for others who suffered prejudice and want. “If,” he once remarked, “we all could really see (‘see’ as perceive, understand, discover) each other exactly as the other is, this would be a different world.” Through his picture books a visit to Keats’ neighborhood is restorative: Peter and his friends remind us of the simple joy of being alive.

Inspired by Asian art and haiku poetry, 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. “Each drawing is considered not in itself, but in relationship to the rest of the book,” he explained, while keeping in mind “drama, continuity, contrast, and mood.” His preferred format was the horizontal double-page spread, which freed him to alternate close-up scenes with panoramic views. In his illustrations Keats makes dilapidated urban settings beautiful through his mastery of collage as well as his dramatic use of color. 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.

supporters

The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats was 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.

The Koret and Taube Foundations are the Lead Supporters of the 2012–13 exhibition season.

Image Credit

Ezra Jack Keats, “After breakfast he put on his snowsuit and ran outside” (detail). Final illustration for The Snowy Day, 1962. Collage and paint on board, 10 x 20 in. Ezra Jack Keats papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi.  Copyright © Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.