The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats is the first major exhibition in this country to pay tribute to award-winning author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats (1916 – 1983), whose beloved children’s books include Whistle for Willie, Peter’s Chair, and The Snowy Day – 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.
About Ezra Jack Keats
The author and illustrator 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 antisemitism 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.” A visit to Keats’s neighborhood is restorative: Peter and his friends remind us of the simple joy of being alive.
Ezra Jack Keats’s Illustrations
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.
About the Exhibition
The exhibition features over 80 original works by the artist, from preliminary sketches and dummies or preparatory books, to final paintings and collages, including examples of Keats’s most introspective but less-known output inspired by Asian art and poetry. One of the spaces in the galleries will be transformed into a reading room for visitors of all ages inspired by Keats’s art and stories.
Claudia J. Nahson, Curator
The Snowy Day and The Art of Ezra Jack Keats is organized by the Jewish Museum from the collection of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, The University of Southern Mississippi.
The exhibition is funded through a generous grant from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. Additional support has been provided by the Joseph Alexander Foundation, the Alfred J. Grunebaum Memorial Fund, and the Winnick Family Foundation.