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'The Snowy Day': The art of Ezra Jack Keats at the Skirball Center

Cover art for Ezra Jack Keats' award winning children's book, "The Snowy Day."

The Snowy Day, 1962

Ezra Jack Keats Foundation

One of the original illustrations showcased in The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center. This is a good example of how Keats used different colors and collage to depict snow ...

Final illustration for The Snowy Day, 1960

Ezra Jack Keats Foundation

Final illustration for The Snowy Day, 1960

Photo spread from a 1940 edition of Life magazine. Keats said that this little boy, who was photographed before and after a vaccination, was the inspiration for The Snowy Day's main character, Peter.

Another image from The Snowy Day ... this one received a lot of criticism ...

Skirball Jack Keats - 2

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Prints, preliminary sketches and dummies by children's book author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats are on display inside "The Snowy Day" exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Skirball Jack Keats - 3

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

The exhibit is named after Ezra Jack Keats' most well known book published in 1962. "The Snowy Day" was the first modern-day book to feature and African American main character.

Skirball Jack Keats - 4

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Ezra Jack Keat's paints and brushes are on display inside the Hurd Gallery at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Skirball Jack Keats - 5

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

A 1 p.m. gallery tour takes place inside "The Snowy Day" exhibition on Thursday, May 8.

Skirball Jack Keats - 6

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Attendees can wear plastic glasses while walking through the exhibit. The glasses modeled after goggles that appear in Ezra Jack Keat's book, "Goggles!"

Skirball Jack Keats - 7

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Attendees can mimic Keats-inspired silhouettes on the shadow wall at the end of "The Snowy Day" exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Ezra Jack Keats

Ezra Jack Keats

Skirball Jack Keats - 1

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

A family heading into the Skirball's "The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats" exhibit.

Children's book author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats grew up in a poor Jewish household in Brooklyn, New York in the early 1920s. A creative child, he spent his days cobbling together artwork with scraps and discarded paint his father brought home from his job as a waiter.  

Growing up in a diverse, working class community gave Keats early exposure to people of many different races, and to the discrimination that people of color suffered in the early 20th century. 

His early experiences and his natural talent lead Keats to create one of the most important children's books of the 20th century, "The Snowy Day."

The award-winning book, published in 1962, was the first full-color picture book to feature an African-American as the central character. The story follows a young boy named Peter, on an adventure after waking up to a winter wonderland out his apartment window. 

"He understood a problem, in terms of representation of African-American children, and he wanted to solve it," said Skirball Center curator Erin Clancy. "He said himself that his goal was to give every child a feeling of genuine self acceptance."

Keats died after suffering a heart attack in 1983, but his legacy lives on. Now, L.A.'s Skirball Center is celebrating this book with a complete interactive exhibit. Clancy takes Take Two on a personal tour of the exhibit and explains why Keats was so important. 

Interview Highlights:

How African-Americans were portrayed in children's books before Ezra Jack Keats:

"We have just a few examples of the history of representation of African-American children in children's books, starting with the very first example, which was "Little Black Sambo" (1899). It is an example of the kinds of representation that you find, which are racially stereotyped, not positive images of African-American life. Until maybe the 1950s and '60s, it was a part of the American consciousness. Up until Keats' day, there was a push to have more positive reflections of African-American characters, but they were primarily through the lens of integration." 

The inspiration for the little boy in "The Snowy Day":


One of the more controversial images from the book:

Keats makes use of collage:


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