The Other Side of Norman Rockwell on Display at Heritage Museum
By: Mike Rausch, May 4, 2012
DON PARKINSON - Rockwell took extensive photo portraits which formed the basis of his illustrations of classic American life.
From May 5 through September 3, Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich will present a major exhibition of the works of Norman Rockwell.
Titled “Norman Rockwell: Beyond the Easel,” the exhibit features more than 150 of the renowned illustrator’s artworks. It is the first major show of Rockwell’s that has ever been shown in the greater Boston area.
“I thought this was a good statement about Heritage’s mission because what we do here is celebrate American culture,” said Heritage Museums & Gardens Executive Director Ellen Spear at a press opening Thursday. “What better person to celebrate American culture than Norman Rockwell?”
Visitors to the Heritage exhibit will see Rockwell works that feature the quaint scenes of Americana he is so closely associated with: the local barbershop; a family closing up their summer home; nervous fathers in a hospital waiting room. But some of paintings will also surprise, revealing Rockwell’s fascination with space and technology and his examination of social issues.
“The New Impossibility” celebrates the 1969 moon landing with astronauts on the lunar landscape. “New Kids in the Neighborhood” made the cover of Look Magazine in 1967 and features a group of white children confronting two black children who are moving into their new home.
“Blood Brothers,” done in 1968, shows a white man and a black man lying in the street, blood pouring from beneath them. It was the one illustration of Rockwell’s that Look Magazine rejected.
“Very difficult subject matter,” Spear said, explaining the magazine’s decision.
If you go...
Norman Rockwell: Beyond the EaselHeritage Museums & Gardens 67 Grove Street, Sandwich
Admission is $15 (adults), $7 (youth ages 3 to 12), and free for members and children age 2 and younger.
A group rate of $12 per person is available for groups of 20 or more.
For an additional fee, guided tours of the exhibition are available for groups.
For more information, call 508-888-3300 or visit www.heritagemuseums.org.
Norman Rockwell, film director
The section “Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera” reveals Rockwell’s fascination with photography and his use of models in his paintings. Visitors will see how Rockwell meticulously positioned a person or a group of people in a photograph, and then adapted that posed photo to illustrate a story.
“He worked like a movie director and posed his models in a variety of poses,” Spear explained.
Rockwell even used himself on occasion, his face among the crowd, much like Alfred Hitchcock’s cameo appearances in his films.
Another section is called “Picturing Health: Norman Rockwell and the Art of Illustration.” This section showcases rare, original Rockwell oil paintings commissioned by pharmaceutical and medical firms. Intended for advertising, these paintings explored doctor-patient relationships, physical fitness, and health and healing.
Several vintage cars from Heritage’s automobile collection are also in display, juxtaposed with the same models featured in Rockwell’s paintings. A 12-minute biographical video, narrated by Rockwell’s son, Peter, is played in a continuous loop.
The Rockwell legacy
Born in New York City in 1894, Norman Rockwell began drawing as a child, creating pictures of the characters in the Charles Dickens novels his father would read to him. At the age of 16, he left high school to attend art school and by 19 he was the art editor of Boy’s Life magazine.
Rockwell was 22 when his first illustration appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, a publication he became synonymous with for nearly 50 years. Between 1916 and 1963, he created 321 covers for the magazine. His final cover for The Saturday Evening Post was a portrait of President John F. Kennedy, published just after Kennedy’s assassination.
“Rockwell’s politics were definitely liberal,” Heritage’s Director of Collections and Exhibits Jennifer Madden said, explaining that since The Saturday Evening Post was politically conservative, leaving that publication allowed him to explore and present his political leanings.
Rockwell moved to Stockbridge in 1953, where he lived until his death in 1978. He once said of Stockbridge that “it is the best of New England, the best of Massachusetts,” and in 1976, the town claimed him as its hometown hero.
Upon his death at the age of 84, Rockwell left behind a legacy of more than 4,000 paintings, drawing and studies, many of which make up the exhibition now on display at Heritage Museums & Gardens.
Spear said that the hope with the Norman Rockwell exhibit is that “people will begin to think of Heritage of a place where they can come to see great exhibitions.”
“Rockwell is a terrific, uplifting artist and we think that he inspires people to talk to each other, and what we’re about, is people who share a passion for something coming together and talking and learning together.”