The Contemporary Jewish Museum 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 (1916Ė1983), whose beloved childrenís books include Whistle for Willie (1964), Peterís 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 childrenís literature. Also pioneering were the dilapidated urban settings of Keatsís 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 artistís most popular books. Also on view are examples of Keatsís 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.
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. Keatsís 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.
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 Childrenís Literature Collection, The University of Southern Mississippi. The exhibition was funded at The Jewish Museum, New York 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.