Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Timeless Art of Ezra Jack Keats

Keats's eyes say a lot,
don't you think?
I recently drove out to Western Massachusetts to visit The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art because of the current Ezra Jack Keats exhibit. Entitled The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats, it is, according to the Carle's website, "the first major exhibition in this country to pay tribute to award-winning author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats." When I read that the first time, I was surprised. Really? No where had put together a whole show featuring only Keats before? Weird. And also excellent, because The Carle gets to be the first.

The exhibit is fantastic. It has just the right amount of information about Keats and his work. There is original art from The Snowy Day, Whistle for Willie, Goggles, Apt. 3, A Letter to Amy, and more. There are four awesome showcases. One with original sketches and notes by Keats, one about his visits to Japan, one with his actual palette and paints box, and one that chronicles some of the controversy surrounding The Snowy Day.

From Goggles

Critic Nancy Larrick wrote an article entitled “The All-White World of Children’s Books" in the Saturday Review after The Snowy Day was published. To make her point, she pointed to the book, the editors, and Keats as having made an error by not overtly pointing out Peter's race in the text . Keats responded to her via letter to the editor of the magazine, which they printed. (Others also sent letters which are on display as well.) Larrick responded directly to Keats in a letter also on display, and I won't ruin it for you--it's worth going to check it out.

From The Snowy Day, which I give every
new born baby in my life.
This blog post by the School Library Journal, which named The Snowy Day at Number Five on their Top 100 Picture Books List, is extremely comprehensive and has lots of fantastic images, many of which are part of the exhibit.

The amazing cityscapes in Keats's work are beautiful and remind me
why I love living in my neighborhood every day. They were groundbreaking
in their depiction. Like this one from A Letter to Amy.
The art of Ezra Jack Keats was the first to depict urban scenes the way they often are: gritty, messy, and full of adventure for kids. Today, his art is as important as it was in the 1960s and 70s for kids growing up in cities to see themselves in picture books. His art is timeless. The exhibit is open through October 14. Go if you can. You'll be glad you did.

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