FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 3, 2014
Press Preview: Wednesday, April 9, 10:00–11:30 a.m.
Skirball Cultural Center presents
THE SNOWY DAY
AND THE ART OF EZRA JACK KEATS
April 10–September 7, 2014
Exhibition honors the groundbreaking author and illustrator
who paved the way for multiracial representation in American children’s literature
LOS ANGELES—The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats, the first major United States exhibition to pay tribute to beloved author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats (1916–1983), will be on view at the Skirball Cultural Center from April 10 through September 7, 2014. Published at the height of the American civil rights movement, Keats’s landmark book The Snowy Day (1962) represents an historic milestone, featuring the first African American protagonist in a full-color children’s picture book. The Snowy Day went on to win the Caldecott Medal and has sold over five million copies to date, inspiring generations of readers and authors alike.
Organized by The Jewish Museum, New York, the exhibition features more than eighty original works by Keats, from preliminary sketches to final paintings and collages from the artist’s most popular books. Also on view is a brief history of African American representation in twentieth-century picture books, personal correspondence, research materials, and examples of the artist’s more introspective but lesser-known output inspired by Asian art and haiku. Additionally, the exhibition invites visitors to engage in collage making and story writing, as well as other Keats-inspired activities, and to enjoy books together in a cozy reading area.
Ezra Jack Keats was born Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz in Brooklyn in 1916. His parents were Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Although he briefly studied painting in Paris on the GI Bill, Keats was primarily self-taught. For his art, he drew upon memories of growing up in East New York, at the time one of the city’s most deprived neighborhoods. Keats’s experience of anti-Semitism and poverty in his youth gave him a lifelong sympathy for all who suffered prejudice and want.
Of his decision to center The Snowy Day around an African American boy, Keats explained, “My book would have him there simply because he should have been there all along.” Not only did Keats bring multiracial faces to children’s literature, he also broke ground by setting many of his stories in dilapidated neighborhoods. Picture books had rarely featured such gritty landscapes before. Using lush color in his paintings and collages and focusing more on mood than plot, Keats depicted beauty in unexpected places. By the end of his life, he had illustrated more than eighty books, most of them for children, twenty-two of which he also authored.
“The Skirball is pleased to celebrate the pioneering art and life of Ezra Jack Keats,” remarked Robert Kirschner, Skirball Museum Director. “Keats’s experiences growing up in a poor Jewish family in Brooklyn fueled his interest in portraying disenfranchised peoples and urban environments. Yet his work transcends the personal. His characters and storylines appeal to what is human in each of us, regardless of race, age, class, and gender.”
Kirschner added, “We hope that visitors, whether they are longtime fans of Keats’s rich oeuvre or newly discovering The Snowy Day, will feel inspired by his books’ essential messages of harmony.”
Following its premiere at The Jewish Museum—which coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of The Snowy Day—The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats traveled to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Akron Art Museum, and the National Museum of American Jewish History. The Skirball presentation concludes the national tour.
Artworks on View
The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats explores Keats’s multifaceted body of work in several sections, in galleries designed to evoke the colorful, if run down, settings of his books. For its presentation of the exhibition, the Skirball has added labels written expressly for young readers, as well as interactive stations where visitors can experiment with making footprints and shadows, two motifs found often in Keats’s works.
The exhibition begins with a selection of works that are understood to be self-portraits. Throughout his career, Keats cast himself in his work as different characters, from the immigrant violinist János in Penny Tunes and Princesses (1972) to the exuberant junkman Barney in Louie’s Search (1980).
The section “Coming of Age in Brooklyn” displays seminal works inspired by memories of Keats’s tenement childhood, including a selection of painterly illustrations for Apt. 3 (1971). Final drawings for Dreams (1974) show incandescent color emerging from nighttime Brooklyn windows, while the artist’s devotion to the character Louie is seen in Keats’s most autobiographic stories: Louie (1975), The Trip (1978), Louie’s Search, 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 award-winning 1934 painting, Shantytown. Also on display are illustrations for My Dog is Lost! (1960), coauthored with Pat Cherr, about a Puerto Rican boy named Juanito. Juanito was Keats’s first minority protagonist. In this section, a survey of African American representation in twentieth-century children’s books underscores the significance of The Snowy Day.
Set against a large-scale reproduction of one of its iconic illustrations, “The Snowy Day” section presents many illustrations from the 1962 classic, as well as from Whistle for Willie (1964) and Peter’s Chair (1967), which follow Peter as he grows up. The Snowy Day’s critical reception and the debate sparked by its publication are examined in depth.
“Peter’s Neighborhood” includes a rich selection of images from three more of Keats’s much-beloved books: A Letter to Amy (1968), Hi Cat! (1970), and Pet Show! (1972), featuring a nearly teenage Peter and his friend Archie. The illustrations are filled with hallmarks of Keats’s urban settings, abandoned old doors, overflowing garbage cans, trashed umbrellas, and graffiti.
Keats’s most introspective work is the focus of “Spirituality, Nature, and Asian Art.” On display are illustrations for In a Spring Garden (1965), an anthology of haiku, with silhouetted animals set against skies of marbled paper; and Keats’s sumptuous art for Over in the Meadow (1971), combining watercolor and collage.
The exhibition ends with concluding illustrations for the Louie books. Created by Keats late in life, these bring him back to his old Brooklyn neighborhood. The four spreads provide a moving epilogue to the show, in particular the last illustration from Regards to the Man in the Moon, published two years before Keats’s death. The work is the first and only known instance in which Keats cast himself as an artist, brush in hand.
Reading and Creative Play
In a second gallery devoted to imagination and hands-on exploration, visitors first have the opportunity to inspect Keats’s palette and brushes, materials used in his collages, and samples of the marbled paper he created for his illustrations. A short film shows the artist demonstrating the technique of marbling, as well as illustrators, authors, and publishers—such as Caldecott Medal winner Jerry Pinkney and President and Publisher at Viking Books Regina Hayes—commenting upon Keats’s enduring and far-reaching influence.
Visitors are then invited to use their imaginations. A writing zone encourages children and grown-ups to take inspiration from Keats’s work and write their own stories, while a collage wall offers a chance to try out Keats’s illustration technique. A comfortable reading area, where visitors can sit on a New York–style stoop, is supplied with Keats’s works, as well as an array of other books featuring children of color.
Related Public and School Programs
During the run of the exhibition, the Skirball will present several programs themed to The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats. These include family-friendly gallery tours, a museum sleepover, and Keats-inspired activities in the Skirball’s drop-in art studio. Adult-education offerings include a workshop on children’s book illustration and the course “Art and Courage,” focusing on artists who have taken political and social stands with their work, including Keats.
As part of its extensive outreach to local schools, the Skirball will offer an interactive program for students in K–Grade 3, featuring gallery exploration and art-making with a teaching artist. As part of its ongoing teacher professional development initiative, the Skirball will highlight the work of Keats in the music strand of its “Teaching Our World Through the Arts” program, and include The Snowy Day in its “Teaching Through Storytelling” program.
Catalogue and Merchandise
The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats (Yale University Press, 2011, 104 pp. hardcover, $32), is a full-color exhibition catalogue, with essays by exhibition curator Claudia J. Nahson and Maurice Berger, and an illustrated timeline by Emily Casden and Ms. Nahson. It is available for purchase at Audrey’s Museum Store at the Skirball.
In addition to the catalogue, Audrey’s Museum Store will carry The Snowy Day and a selection of other Keats books, as well as Peter and Willie plush dolls and Snowy Day notecards. Also available will be other winners of the Caldecott Medal.
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 IS FUNDED THOUGH 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.
THE SNOWY DAY AND THE ART OF EZRA JACK KEATS AND ITS RELATED PROGRAMS AT THE SKIRBALL CULTURAL CENTER ARE MADE POSSIBLE IN PART THROUGH THE GENEROUS SUPPORT OF THE FOLLOWING DONORS:
The Boeing Company
Carsey Family Foundation
Specialty Family Foundation
Lannette and Scott Turicchi
ADDITIONAL SUPPORT PROVIDED BY:
Eileen Harris Norton Foundation
Patricia and Stanley Silver Family Trust
MEDIA SPONSORS FOR THE SKIRBALL PRESENTATION:
89.3 KPCC FM Los Angeles magazine
About the Skirball
The Skirball Cultural Center is dedicated to exploring the connections between 4,000 years of Jewish heritage and the vitality of American democratic ideals. It welcomes and seeks to inspire people of every ethnic and cultural identity. Guided by our respective memories and experiences, together we aspire to build a society in which all of us can feel at home. The Skirball Cultural Center achieves its mission through educational programs that explore literary, visual, and performing arts from around the world; through the display and interpretation of its permanent collections and changing exhibitions; through an interactive family destination inspired by the Noah’s Ark story; and through outreach to the community.
Visiting the Skirball
The Skirball Cultural Center is located at 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90049. Free on-site parking is available; street parking is strictly prohibited. The Skirball is also accessible by Metro Rapid Bus 761. Museum hours: Tuesday–Friday 12:00–5:00 p.m.; Saturday–Sunday 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.; closed Mondays and holidays. Museum admission: $10 General; $7 Seniors, Full-Time Students, and Children over 12; $5 Children 2–12. Exhibitions are always free to Skirball Members and Children under 2. Exhibitions are free to all visitors on Thursdays. For general information, the public may call (310) 440-4500 or visit www.skirball.org. The Skirball is also home to Zeidler’s Café, which serves innovative California cuisine in an elegant setting, and Audrey’s Museum Store, which sells books, contemporary art, music, jewelry, and more.