Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People

Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People

by Anne Knutson, Norman Rockwell, High Museum of Art, Norman Rockwell

Accompanying the first major traveling exhibition of works by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), this volume presents a complete reappraisal of one of America's most beloved artists. Contributors from a wide range of fields-including leading art historians, cultural critics, a renowned child psychiatrist, and a leading graphic designer-shed new light on the complexity of…  See more details below


Accompanying the first major traveling exhibition of works by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), this volume presents a complete reappraisal of one of America's most beloved artists. Contributors from a wide range of fields-including leading art historians, cultural critics, a renowned child psychiatrist, and a leading graphic designer-shed new light on the complexity of Rockwell's art and his place as a shaper of mass-media imagery. Stunning colorplates reproduce Rockwell's paintings in crisp detail, and the essays set them in fresh contexts, discussing such themes as Rockwell's urban scenes; the reaction by both black and white Southerners to Rockwell's historic civil rights painting The Problem We All Live With; and Rockwell's role in the development of American illustration. Above all, this important volume examines Norman Rockwell's critical place in 20th-century American culture.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Excellent writing is the hallmark of this catalog of an upcoming exhibit, traveling throughout the country for the next several years. Fourteen essays by art historians and academics address broad themes, specific issues (such as school desegregation), and the critical fortunes of Rockwell's work--without preconceptions or prejudgments. Like Rockwell's art itself, the catalog is clearly organized and accessible, and like his art, the essays are thoughtful and repay close reading. Although brief, these essays are also of uniformly high quality. Icon that he was, it is now possible to look at Rockwell's work in historical context; this book, edited by two museum curators, succeeds thoroughly in this regard. An outstanding companion to Norman Rockwell: 332 Magazine Covers, which reproduced all of his Saturday Evening Post covers, this is highly recommended for general and art historical collections.--Jack Perry Brown, Art Inst. of Chicago Lib. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
YA-This collection of essays forms the catalog of the exhibition of Rockwell's work traveling to seven U.S. cities. It explores the artist's goals, achievements, and legacy as well as his role and stature in American art. Some essays effuse praise, some give anecdotal yet enlightening information about Rockwell's subjects, and some offer in-depth, scholarly analyses of his works. Because the book presents writings by a variety of curators and critics, information is repeated and often opinions are flatly contradicted. The variety of interpretations of Rockwell's style and work shows a complexity in a collection often viewed as simple and sentimental. Even so, the book's true strength lies in the 133 full-color plates and illustrations that document Rockwell's progress as illustrator, painter, and storyteller. A delight for casual observers and students of art and art history.-Vivien Jewell, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|

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Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
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Chapter One

Directors' Acknowledgments

Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People is the culmination of a dream that began many years ago at The Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge and was brought to fruition through an extraordinary partnership with the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. That dream was to bring Norman Rockwell's art to audiences that, for reasons of geography or economics, could not come to The Norman Rockwell Museum, nestled in the beautiful Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People and its accompanying catalogue are the result of the special collaboration between these two institutions, which have shared responsibility for all aspects of the project. In addition, the generosity and dedication of a number of individuals, both within our institutions and outside, have made it possible to bring these paintings to the nation.

    We are indebted to the Rockwell family for their support and encouragement over many years and particularly for their interest and involvement in this exhibition. Norman Rockwell's sons—Jarvis, Tom, and Peter (who is a contributor to the catalogue)—and their families have generously donated their time, expertise, and reproduction rights, as well as financial support, for which we are most grateful. We also wish to acknowledge the Trustees of the Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust—Jarvis Rockwell, Tom Rockwell, and Arthur Abelman—for their trust and support.

    This exhibition and its tour to seven American museums would not bepossible without the very generous support of the Ford Motor Company and William Clay Ford, Jr., Chairman, who have taken a leadership role as national exhibition sponsor as well as supporting local costs at each of the venues. We are especially grateful to Mabel H. Cabot, Director of Corporate Programming at Ford, for her visionary involvement in the exhibition.

    We are pleased and honored to have received an important grant from The Henry Luce Foundation in support of the exhibition and catalogue. In particular, we would like to thank Henry Luce III, Chairman and CEO; John Cook, President; and Ellen Holtzman, Program Director for the Arts, for their support and guidance.

    Joan SerVaas Durham and the SerVaas family of the Curtis Publishing Company have been most gracious in providing in-kind assistance for the reproduction rights of works originally presented in The Saturday Evening Post. With their support, we have been able to share images from the exhibition more broadly, through educational materials, a web site, and other promotional efforts.

    The High Museum of Art is especially grateful to Mr. and Mrs. William Parker and their family for their early interest in the exhibition and their critical financial support.

    Our five venue partners are to be acknowledged for recognizing the importance of this exhibition. The goal of national outreach has been achieved with the exhibition's tour to the Chicago Historical Society, The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the San Diego Museum of Art, the Phoenix Art Museum, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Douglas Greenberg in Chicago, David C. Levy at the Corcoran, Steven L. Brezzo in San Diego, James K. Ballinger of Phoenix, Thomas Krens at the Guggenheim, and their staffs have been most supportive partners as this project has taken shape.

    We owe a special debt of gratitude to the individuals and institutions that lent their Norman Rockwell original artwork, particularly for a tour of this length. We are grateful to Mr. Phillip Grace; Mr. T. Marshall Hahn, Jr.; Illustration House, New York; Mr. Baxter Jones; the Don McNeill Family; Emmet, Toni, and Tessa Stephenson; and the family of Ken and Katharine Stuart, as well as those private collectors who wish to remain anonymous. The public institutions that have generously agreed to participate include: The Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts; the Brooklyn Museum of Art; the Burlington Public School District, Vermont; the Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc., Cooperstown, New York; National Museum of American Illustration, Newport, Rhode Island; the U.S. Army Center of Military History, Washington, D.C.; and the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut. Without the cooperation of lenders such as these, Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People would not have the richness and depth that it does. We thank them for agreeing to share their paintings with the public.

    Collaborations are always the result of many individual contributions. The Co-curators of the exhibition, Maureen Hart Hennessey of The Norman Rockwell Museum, Anne Knutson, Guest Curator for the High Museum of Art, and Judy L. Larson, Executive Director of the Art Museum of Western Virginia, should be highly commended for bringing two very different institutions together in the development of this project. Curatorial staff from both institutions played a critical role in planning and implementation. For the High Museum of Art, Jennifer Ray, Exhibitions Coordinator, masterfully managed the day-to-day details of this exhibition. Linda Merrill, Curator of American Art, brought her prodigious skills as an editor to this project, and Laurie Carter, Curatorial Assistant, helped us tie up many loose ends. Michael E. Shapiro, Deputy Director and Chief Curator at the High, provided important guidance and counsel. In Stockbridge, Linda Szekely, Curator of the Norman Rockwell Collections, provided indispensable archival research, thoughtful and insightful review of the essays and other written material, and her in-depth knowledge of the artist and his work. Curatorial Assistants Pamela Mendelsohn and Kelley Pagano managed the Rockwell photographic library, particularly for the catalogue, with thoroughness and good humor.

    Kelly Morris, Manager of Publications at the High, along with Associate Editor Anna Bloomfield and Assistant Editor Melissa Wargo, did a first-rate job of editing the texts for the catalogue. Produced by Marquand Books in Seattle, the book was handsomely designed by Ed Marquand and is distributed by Harry N. Abrams.

    H. Nichols B. Clark, Eleanor McDonald Storza Chair of Education at the High, and Maud V. Ayson, Associate Director for Education at The Norman Rockwell Museum, coordinated the educational programs with their colleagues Stacey Harnew, Head of School Programs, Joy Patty, Head of Adult Programs, and Shantras Lakes, Head of Family and Community Programs, in Atlanta, and Melinda Georgeson, Curator of Education, Kim Conley, Curator of Youth and Family Programs, and Stephanie Plunkett, Curator of Illustration, in Stockbridge.

    Elisa Glazer, Interim Director of Development and Membership, Susan Brown, Manager of Corporate Support, and Roanne Katcher, Manager of Membership at the High, worked closely with Irma Gonzalez, Associate Director for External Relations at The Norman Rockwell Museum, and Heather Wells Heim, Director of Membership and Development. Keira Ellis, former Manager of Foundation and Government Support in Atlanta, was instrumental in helping us secure The Henry Luce Foundation grant. Sally Corbett, Manager of Public Relations in Atlanta, and Bea Snyder, Director of Marketing and Public Affairs in Stockbridge, and their staffs collaborated on the development of a national campaign and associated materials. Rhonda Matheison, Director of Finance and Operations at the High, and Martin Terrien, Associate Director of Administration at The Norman Rockwell Museum, ensured the smooth financial workings of our partnership. Marcia Meija, Retail Operations Manager at the High, and Jo Ann Losinger, Director of Earned Revenue in Stockbridge, oversaw the development of exhibition products.

    Additional thanks go to the High's exhibition department, including Marjorie Harvey, Manager of Exhibitions and Design, Angela Jaeger, Graphics Technician, and Jim Waters, Chief Preparator. Finally, we are grateful to the registrars, Jody Cohen of the High and Andrew Wallace of The Norman Rockwell Museum, who ensured the safe transit of these important American works.

    Our greatest gratitude goes to the people who have long embraced this artist's compelling and generous vision of America. It is our great pleasure to present this exhibition to the nation.

Ned Rifkin
Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr. Director
High Museum of Art

Laurie Norton Moffatt
The Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge

Ned Rifkin

Why Norman Rockwell, Why Now?

Throughout history, visual artists have made images because of the need to tell stories. Many scholars believe that the earliest artists probably scratched out scenes of the hunt on cave walls to represent their goals as they set out to gather food for their family or tribe. Centuries later, artists illustrated and interpreted scenes from the Bible, giving visual form to written language and enabling the illiterate to acquire the essential feeling and overall idea of the stories. Visual art was useful to those in power because it was often the only record of battles and other historical events. Political rulers employed some of the most talented artists at court to make sure that their version of current events became the official history.

    With the advent of modern art toward the end of the nineteenth century, artists increasingly determined their own subjects. This meant that they had to take their chances selling their art in a commercial art market controlled by academicians who defined a hierarchy of subjects and promulgated certain acceptable styles. As American art evolved during the early twentieth century, numerous talented painters worked in their studios in hopes of bringing their finished expressions to private galleries, where potential patrons would review, consider, and occasionally purchase their paintings. This marked the convergence of American free enterprise with the aesthetic realm.

    Another tradition in visual art—one that great artists had practiced for many years—was concurrent with the rise of both romanticism, with its landscape paintings of the Barbizon school, and realism in the mid-nineteenth century. Sculptor and painter Honoré Daumier was best known for his lithographs of contemporary life in Paris, which were published and distributed widely through the popular press. Another famous French artist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and numerous other like-minded artists of the fin de siècle, made exceptional designs for posters advertising performers in cafés and circuses that had modest, if any, monetary value at that time, yet have proven to be highly influential and ultimately collectible.

    In the early decades of this century, a young American illustrator named Norman Rockwell commenced what would be a long and important career as an image-maker. His own personal style was distinguished by great attention to detail and a love of the anecdotal vignette, and his work was quickly seen by viewers not in art galleries, but in their homes. Rockwell's art, like Daumier's and Toulouse-Lautrec's, was intended to be reproduced in large quantities and delivered to people on a weekly basis. His 322 cover images for The Saturday Evening Post alone would establish him as a primary visual influence on several generations of Americans. Rockwell existed outside of the commercial system of galleries and art museums but was indeed an artist who made his living through selling his images.

    Yet at the end of what many are calling "The American Century," we have found this major talent relegated to a low rank among visual artists, while others mentioned above are lionized for their great work on posters or cartoons. Is this because of the inherent favor of European historic art over American? I think not simply.

    The artists who primarily work for the world of galleries and museums are clearly taken more seriously than "mere illustrators." Is it because of the mechanical replication of their work, or that the original was considered to be less important than the printed page? Or possibly because the intended audience was not the royalty and aristocratic patrons of the past or even the most elite of the bourgeoisie, but everyman, those "commoners" who may not appreciate the nuances of "fine art." Indeed, we have seen this same phenomenon in English literature of the nineteenth century. Charles Dickens wrote his great stories in installments for popular publications, yet they are now widely considered masterful. Perhaps this explains some of the pervasive and condescending dismissal of Rockwell's achievements on the part of the large majority of art historians and critics.

    It is apparent that much of the disdain for Rockwell's art springs from his consistent sentimentality about American values and the belief of his critics in the modernist canon of refinement and advancement of abstraction, the progressive invention of style, and the idea that concept should supersede subject matter and even content. Rockwell, his style, and even his name have come to embody the very antithesis of what is modern about America in this century. The small town is more prevalent than the city in his work. The figure rendered in exquisite detail dominates his work. There are no surfaces of paint in Norman Rockwell images because they were not regarded as paintings.

    With the advance of time and the clarifying perspectives that distance affords to thinkers, teachers, and writers on visual art and culture, it is now time for a reconsideration of Norman Rockwell as one of the earliest American artists—and certainly the one whose work had the greatest impact—to understand how to communicate effectively through visual imagery in what is now generally called the mass media.

    There is a poignant parallel to be made between Rockwell and another gifted creator of visual mass communications. Movie directors of the thirties, forties, and fifties often explored themes such as the dignity of the common man. Perhaps no one was more influential or eloquent in this particular genre than the great American film auteur Frank Capra. Capra and Rockwell examined life in America during the same dire period, and through their work, they advanced the values they believed flourished among the middle or working class at the time when our economy was recovering from the shock of the Great Depression. In films such as Meet John Doe, It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Capra deftly defined how Americans saw themselves and their way of life in a young republic challenged by economic decline. He celebrated democracy and the individual, with all of his virtues and foibles.

    In the United States, Capra's classic film of 1946, It's a Wonderful Life, is to the observation and celebration of Christmas what Rockwell's Freedom from Want (page 98) is to the symbolic ritual of Thanksgiving dinner. Like Capra, Rockwell was committed to a focus on the individual, the characteristic American traits of warmth, humility, and humor, and the deep-seated sentiments that are somehow tested in extreme situations. The power of these two disparate popular art forms to reach large numbers of people (for relatively modest cost) and to masterfully evoke the pathos of what it means to be an American is akin to the power of great religious art to evoke the spiritual dimension of Christianity.

    In the postwar decades of this century, artists who did not produce heroic, large-scale, and abstract paintings could not hope to find their way into the annals of art history. Moreover, any artist committed to making fastidiously detailed paintings was decried as old-fashioned and out of step with the times. The distinctions between high and low culture have become the subject of much study and debate over the past several years. Andy Warhol, one of the most influential artists of his generation, identified Rockwell as one of his favorite artists. Warhol's remote and enigmatic attitudes and position statements (such as saying he wished he were a machine) are the antithesis of what Rockwell's imagery conveys. Both men were accomplished illustrators (Warhol began his career in New York doing fashion illustration)—Rockwell made icons depicting Americans interacting with their environment and one another, while Warhol identified icons such as soup cans and celebrities and replicated them to become one of the most famous, successful, and enterprising artists in history. In many ways, Warhol represents the opposite of the Rockwellian earnestness that graced magazine covers and advertisements. Despite their numerous differences, both artists arguably symbolize, through their deliberately commercial and visual achievements, vastly different but truthful dimensions of being American in this century.

    In the end, art that does not engage an audience cannot communicate and, thus, cannot be expressive. The most rigorous intellect and intense emotions must still use a visual language that speaks to people if they are to be successfully understood or felt. Norman Rockwell clearly mastered the complexity of the human experience in the United States—his contemporary America—by making it seem and look simple. However, looking carefully at Rockwell discloses that his art is not a simple one—it only appears to be so. Realistic renderings that "fool the eye" demonstrate technical proficiency but do not necessarily convey soulfulness. Rockwell understood, perhaps intuitively, that illusions were comforting to many, but ultimately superficial. Somehow, in his years of generating compelling scenes of American reality, Norman Rockwell forged a cumulative portrait of real people, making meaning out of the incidental. The universal humanity that his work communicates is something that we must ultimately cherish and marvel at rather than diminish or condemn. For it is our own humanness that we risk when we deny its essential vitality and the freedom that this affords us.

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