The Carle Museum Announces Ezra Jack Keats Exhibit

Amherst, MA - 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), opens at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art on June 26, 2012 and remains on view through October 24, 2012. 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 children’s literature. Also pioneering were the dilapidated urban settings of Keats’s stories. Picture books had rarely featured such gritty landscapes before.
 
“The Carle is pleased to show this important groundbreaking work,” said Chief Curator Nick Clark. “The opportunity to exhibit the work of Ezra Jack Keats enables us to continue our commitment to present the titans of the 20th century and focus on those artists who have turned corners. In Keats’s instance his pioneering efforts to depict the African American in their urban environment with the utmost dignity. Keats himself had been victimized by discrimination, so he was acutely sensitive to this issue,” he said.
 
The exhibition features over 80 original works from preliminary sketches and dummy books, to final paintings and collages for the artist’s most popular books. Also on view are examples of Keats’s most introspective but less-known output inspired by Asian art and haiku poetry, as well as documentary material and photographs. Organized by The Jewish Museum in New York City, the exhibition is part of a wide-scale celebration of the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Snowy Day.
 
To coincide with this exhibit, Penguin Young Readers Group has published The Snowy Day: 50th Anniversary Special Edition, an oversized edition of the beloved classic featuring eight pages of bonus material that include photographs of Ezra Jack Keats and some of Keats’s early sketches for the book.
 
Keats’s Life
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.
 
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.
 
The Exhibition
The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats explores Keats’s multifaceted oeuvre in six sections preceded by an introduction and followed by an epilogue.
 
The introductory gallery presents a selection of works that can be construed as self-portraits of the artist. Throughout his career Keats often cast himself in his work posing as different characters, from the immigrant violinist János in Penny Tunes and Princesses (1972) to the exuberant junkman Barney in Louie’s Search (1980).
 
“Coming of Age in Brooklyn” features seminal works inspired by memories of Keats’s tenement childhood, including a selection of illustrations for Apt. 3 (1971) showcasing some of his most painterly spreads. Also on view are final drawings for Dreams (1974), where color travels out of the Brooklyn windows and into the night as the tenement’s inhabitants begin to dream and darkness turns into incandescence. Keats’s combination of paint and marbled paper reaches a pinnacle in these illustrations. The artist’s lengthy preoccupation with Louie, protagonist of some of Keats’s most autobiographic stories, is examined in this section through a series of illustrations for Louie (1975), The Trip (1978), Louie’s Search (1980), 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 1934 award-winning painting, Shantytown. Created by young Keats during the Depression, it is being shown along with other socially committed works. In order to express the significance of The Snowy Day within the history of American children’s literature, an exhibition case is devoted to a brief survey of African-American representation in children’s books throughout the 20th century. Illustrations for My Dog is Lost! (1960), coauthored by Keats and Pat Cherr, about a Puerto Rican boy named Juanito, are also on display. This is Keats’s first attempt to correct the problems of representation in children’s literature at the time and cast a minority child as protagonist. This pioneering move likely paved the way for his creation of Peter of The Snowy Day fame.
 
“The Snowy Day” section presents a wide selection of illustrations for the 1962 landmark book as well as for Whistle for Willie (1964) and Peter’s Chair (1967) featuring Peter as he grows up. The Snowy Day’s critical reception and debate sparked by its publication is also examined.
 
“Peter’s Neighborhood” includes a rich selection of images for three of Keats’s greatly loved books: A Letter to Amy (1968), Hi Cat! (1970) and Pet Show! (1972), featuring Peter on his way to becoming a teenage boy, as well as his friend Archie, who takes on more of a central role as Peter grows older. The selected illustrations are filled with Keats’s signature elements - abandoned old doors, overflowing garbage cans, trashed umbrellas, and graffitied walls; the background elements the artist was committed to bringing to the foreground in his books.
 
Keats’s most introspective work is the focus of the “Spirituality, Nature, and Asian Art” section. On display are illustrations for In a Spring Garden (1965), an anthology of haiku poems, with silhouetted animals set against skies of marbled paper; and his sumptuous art for Over the Meadow (1971), combining watercolor and collage. A preparatory drawing for The Giant Turnip, a Russian folktale that Keats chose to illustrate as a Japanese story, is also on view. The book was nearing completion at the time of the artist’s death in 1983.
 
In “Keats at Work,” Keats’s actual palette, brushes, materials used in his collages, and samples of marbled paper he created for his illustrations are displayed. In addition, visitors can view a film in which the artist demonstrates the technique of creating marbled paper, and other illustrators and authors who knew Keats comment on his wide-ranging influence.
 
The exhibition ends with concluding illustrations for four Louie books first examined at the beginning of the show. These books, done by Keats late in life, bring him back full circle to where it all began: his old Brooklyn neighborhood. The four spreads provide a moving epilogue to the show, including the last illustration from Regards to the Man in the Moon (1981), published two years before Keats’s death, the first and only known instance in which he cast himself as an artist, brush in hand.
 
The exhibition has been organized by Claudia Nahson, Curator at The Jewish Museum. Following its showing at The Eric Carle Museum, The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats will travel to the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, CA (November 15, 2012-February 24, 2013); and the Akron Art Museum (March 16 -June 30, 2013).
 
Exhibition Catalogue
In conjunction with the exhibition The Jewish Museum and Yale University Press have published The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats. The 104-page catalogue includes 80 color and 3 black-and-white illustrations, essays by Claudia Nahson and Maurice Berger, and an illustrated timeline by Emily Casden and Ms. Nahson. The hardcover book will be available worldwide and at The Museum’s Shop for $27.50.
 
Sponsorship
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 South 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 Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art’s presentation of the exhibition is supported by Penguin Young Readers Group and the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.
 
 
ABOUT THE MUSEUM
The mission for The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, a non-profit organization in Amherst, MA, is to inspire a love of art and reading in young children. The only full-scale museum of its kind in the United States, The Carle collects, preserves, presents, and celebrates picture books and picture book illustrations from around the world. In addition to underscoring the cultural, historical, and artistic significance of picture books and their art form, The Carle offers educational programs that provide a foundation for arts integration and literacy.
 
Eric and Barbara Carle founded the Museum in November 2002. Eric Carle is the renowned author and illustrator of more than 70 books, including the 1969 classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Since opening, the 40,000-foot facility has served more than half a million visitors, including 30,000 schoolchildren. Its extensive resources include a collection of more than 10,000 picture book illustrations, three art galleries, an art studio, a theater, picture book and scholarly libraries, and educational programs for families, scholars, educators, and schoolchildren. Educational offerings include professional training for educators around the country. Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 12 noon to 5 p.m. Open Mondays in July and August and during MA school vacation weeks. . Admission is $9 for adults, $6 for children under 18, and $22.50 for a family of four. For further information and directions, call 413-658-1100 or visit the Museum’s website at www.carlemuseum.org.
 
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