Featured Stories & Articles from Cape Cod Travel Magazine: Norman Rockwell: Beyond the Easel
The mission of Heritage Museums and Gardens is “to celebrate American culture and inspire people of all ages to explore, discover, and learn together,” according to Executive Director Ellen Spear.
Famed American illustrator Norman Rockwell once said; “Without thinking about it too much in specific terms, I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed.”
With such seemingly similar “missions,” wouldn’t it make perfect sense for Heritage, set on 100 bucolic acres in Sandwich, to host the first major exhibition of Rockwell’s work ever held in the Metro Boston area? Beginning on May 5, 2012, it will be mission accomplished when Norman Rockwell: Beyond the Easel opens for a four-month run.
Organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, the exhibit is comprised of two distinct approaches which show not only Rockwell’s famed works, but also the illustrator’s process. While Rockwell’s completed works may seem almost effortless, the steps required to go from concept to completion were many; carefully planned and painstakingly executed.
On display as part of “Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera” will be photographs of the scenarios the illustrator staged before putting brush to canvas. Models were hired, frequently children, backgrounds orchestrated and accessories placed just so.
In 1948’s “Breakfast Table Political Argument” two children were posed in a situation typical to adults; at the kitchen table, suit and glasses on him, stacked hairdo and robe on her, coffee cups at the ready,
newspapers open and fingers pointing. When the photo is compared to Rockwell’s completed painting, the likeness between the two images is stunning. He’s added to the scenario: the crying baby, the dog and kitchen appliances, but the representation of the “couple” and the table and chairs are almost photographically depicted and museumgoers will have the opportunity to see both photo and painting.
Other famed works to be displayed in a similar manner will include 1947’s “Coming and Going”. In addition to more than 150 of Rockwell’s artworks and the photos will be some of the actual props used in the staged scenarios. The 1951 Ford Country Squire used in “Closing up for the Summer” will be at Heritage as will many of the smaller accessories which were incorporated into his works.
The second portion of the exhibit is “Picturing Health: Norman Rockwell and the Art of Illustration” which is sponsored by Pfizer Inc. and will include the original paintings Rockwell created as advertising commissions between 1929 and 1961 for businesses such as The Upjohn Company. Like his more famous works created for The Saturday Evening Post, his advertising images “inspired Americans to view themselves and their physicians with optimism,” according to Heritage.
Rockwell’s cover images for The Saturday Evening Post are, for many people, his best-known works. His first Post cover was published in May of 1916 and was titled “Mother’s Day”. He was 22 years old at the time, but this was not his first success.
Norman Rockwell was born in New York City in 1894. At the age of 14 he left traditional high school to attend Chase Art School and went on to study art at the National Academy of Design. Rock-well’s first paid commission came at 16 for designing four Christmas cards. While still in his teens, he was appointed art director of Boys’ Life, the magazine of the Boy Scouts of America. It was Boys’ Life that would publish Rockwell’s first cover.
His association with The Saturday Evening Post would last for 47 years and include 321 covers. Many, such as “The Runaway” (1958) and “Triple Self Portrait” (1960), have become instantly recognizable to people both young and old as has the Rockwell painting that’s often commonly referred to as “Thanksgiving Dinner”. This work, actually titled “Freedom from Want” (1943), is from his “Four Freedoms” series. All ran as Post covers and all were inspired by FDR’s 1941 State of the Union address in which President Roosevelt identified four essential human rights: Freedom From Want, Freedom of Worship, Freedom of Speech and Freedom From Fear.
The Department of the Treasury organized a tour of the original oil paintings in the “Four Freedoms” series which raised more than $130M in war bonds. Heritage Museums and Gardens’ “Norman Rockwell: Beyond the Easel” will feature, from its own permanent collection, fully restored posters of the “Four Freedoms” paintings.
Rockwell also contributed his illustrations to Life Magazine, The Literary Digest and classic American works such as Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. These were generally upbeat and folksy. After ending his association with The Saturday Evening Post, he went on to illustrate for Look Magazine, and began depicting his own concerns and interests: civil rights, America’s war on poverty and space exploration.
The Saturday Evening Post ran “Triple Self Portrait” on the first of the eight issues that featured excerpts of Rockwell’s autobiography, a bestseller at the time. He depicts himself much as he depicted “…the American I knew and observed;” simple and down-to-earth, dressed in khakis and blue button-down shirt and surrounded by a touch of clutter yet with an inquisitive expression, almost applying a sense of Americana and nostalgia to himself.
Rockwell’s illustrations were frequently dismissed by “serious” artists of the day for being too optimistic and too commercial, yet during his lifetime, his reputation only continued to grow.
In 1977, a year before his death, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Gerald Ford who referred to Rockwell as an “…artist, illustrator, and author [whose] vivid and affectionate portraits of our country and ourselves have become a beloved part of the American tradition.”
Executive Director Spear says “Rockwell pictures us as the people we aspire to be. As we strive to solve really tough issues, he really depicted us as the best we could be,” and, even for generations far too young to remember The Saturday Evening Post, the term “Rockwell-esque” has come to symbolize the epitome of a fondly remembered America of yesteryear.
If You Go:
Norman Rockwell: Beyond the Easel at Heritage Museums & Gardens
67 Grove St., Sandwich
Exhibit Dates: May 5 – September 3, 2012
Admission to Heritage is $15 (adults) and $7 (youth; children under 2 are
free). Entry to the exhibit is included with general admission fee.
Exhibit Presenting Sponsor: Arbella Insurance Group