Art I Love: THE SNOWY DAY AND THE ART OF EZRA JACK KEATS

 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), is on view at the National Museum of American Jewish History (Philadelphia, PA) through October 20, 2013.

Ezra Jack Keats, “Crunch, crunch, crunch, his feet sank into the snow.” Final illustration for The Snowy Day, 1962. Collage and paint on board. Ezra Jack Keats papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi.  Copyright Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

Ezra Jack Keats, “Crunch, crunch, crunch, his feet sank into the snow.” Final illustration for The Snowy Day, 1962. Collage and paint on board. Ezra Jack Keats papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi. Copyright Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

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 modern full-color picture book.

Ezra Jack Keats, dust jacket. Final illustration for A Letter to Amy, 1968. Watercolor, collage, and paint on board. Ezra Jack Keats papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi.  Copyright Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

Ezra Jack Keats, dust jacket. Final illustration for A Letter to Amy, 1968. Watercolor, collage, and paint on board. Ezra Jack Keats papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi. Copyright Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

Organized by The Jewish Museum in New York City, the exhibition features more than 80 original works – from preliminary sketches and dummy books, to final paintings and collages for the artist’s most popular books.

Ezra Jack Keats, “Archie laughed and said, ‘We sure fooled ’em, didn’t we?’ “ Final illustration for Goggles!, 1969. Paint and collage on board.  Ezra Jack Keats papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi.  Copyright Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

Ezra Jack Keats, “Archie laughed and said, ‘We sure fooled ’em, didn’t we?’ “ Final illustration for Goggles!, 1969. Paint and collage on board. Ezra Jack Keats papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi. Copyright Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

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.

Ezra Jack Keats, “ ‘It’s time for the pet show!...’ Archie ran into the building.” Final illustration for Pet Show!, 1972. Paint, collage, and crayon on board.  Ezra Jack Keats papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi.  Copyright Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

Ezra Jack Keats, “ ‘It’s time for the pet show!…’ Archie ran into the building.” Final illustration for Pet Show!, 1972. Paint, collage, and crayon on board. Ezra Jack Keats papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi. Copyright Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

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.

Ezra Jack Keats, “It was hot. After supper Roberto came to his window to talk with Amy.” Final illustration for Dreams, 1974. Marbled paper and paint on board.  Ezra Jack Keats papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi.  Copyright Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

Ezra Jack Keats, “It was hot. After supper Roberto came to his window to talk with Amy.” Final illustration for Dreams, 1974. Marbled paper and paint on board. Ezra Jack Keats papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi. Copyright Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats ends October 20, 2013. If you are not in the Philadelphia area but would like to experience this exhibition, The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats 104-page catalogue  (includes 80 color and 3 black-and-white illustrations) is available for $32 online.

If you are in or near the Philadelphia-area, you can enter to win a pair of tickets to attend the exhibition! Simply follow the THE MCB PROJECT on Facebook and Instagram to enter for your chance to win (all followers will be eligible to win a pair of tickets.)

 

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