This bronze sculpture features Peter and his dachshund, Willie—familiar characters in the stories of best-selling children’s book author Ezra Jack Keats (1916-1983). This particular tableau is based on Keats’ book Peter’s Chair, and was sculpted by Brooklyn-based, African-American artist Otto Neals. It was funded by the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.
Keats was born in East New York, Brooklyn, and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School. An artist and children’s book illustrator at a time when minority characters were largely unheard of, Keats made them central to his books. Peter, an African-American boy, introduced in the award-winning classic The Snowy Day (1962), and his friends live and thrive in an urban world of tenements and empty lots, but their experiences—in play, imagination, feelings and friendship—are shared by all children. Keats illustrated his stories with a vivid, colorful blend of collage and painting. In all, he wrote and illustrated 22 books, including A Letter for Amy, Dreams, Goggles!, and John Henry, and illustrated an additional 85 books for children.
Sculptor Otto Neals transformed Keats’ characters into an artwork for children to play on and around. Born in 1930 in South Carolina and raised in Brooklyn, he is a largely self-taught painter, printmaker, and sculptor. Neals was the long-time head illustrator for the Brooklyn General Postal Service, and the post office at Cadman Plaza was home to his wood carving, Spirit of ‘76, crafted from an oak postal table. His public art can be seen throughout New York City, including bronze reliefs on 135th Street marking the Harlem Walk of Fame, a mural at Kings County Hospital Center, and a bronze sculpture for the Brooklyn Children’s Center.
Dedicated in 1997, Peter and Willie was commissioned as part of the design for this playground by the Prospect Park Alliance to inspire imaginative play. It was a recipient of a New York City Art Commission Award for Design Excellence, and in 2016 was named by United for Libraries an honorary Literary Landmark.
Peter & Willie Details
- Location: Imagination Playground, Ocean Avenue and Lincoln Road
- Sculptor: Otto Neals
- Description: Two figures and chair on a natural boulder, mosaic play surface
- Materials: Figures--bronze; boulder--basalt; play surface--ceramic
- Dimensions: boulder = approx. w. 9' x d. 4'
- Cast: 1997
- Dedicated: June 20, 1997
- Foundry: Bedi-Makky Art Foundry, 227 India Street Greenpoint, Brooklyn
- Donor: Ezra Jack Keats Foundation (sculpture only)
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