American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell

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Review

of an Exhibit

by Susan Sawyer

Published on June 01, 2015 , Modified on June 04, 2015

  • Description:

    American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts is on display at the Tampa Museum of Art from March 7 through May 31, 2015. The exhibition fills four of the museums galleries with over 40 paintings, 323 prints of the infamous Saturday Evening Post magazine covers, and lengthy exhibit labels. If you want to get the most out of the exhibit bring your reading glasses and expect to spend at least one hour enjoying this exhibit.

    When you enter the first gallery of the exhibition you will be greeted with the very large painting, Triple Self-Portrait painted by Rockwell for a Saturday Evening Post magazine cover in February of 1960. Be sure to look closely at the painting, as you will see the colorful and articulate detail of his work. If you have never seen a Rockwell painting up close before, this will truly change your perception of his work and impress you more than you can imagine. The triple portrait painting sets the tone of the exhibit for the visitor revealing clues about Rockwell’s process and who he was as an artist. The wordy exhibit label has thirty lines of text so be sure to skim through the descriptive fluffy stuff. Pay attention to the historical facts such as why the Post commissioned a self-portrait from Rockwell. You will find most labels in this exhibition to be rather lengthy, however the background information provided about the production of each painting in conjunction with historical context proves intriguing.

    The first two galleries display a variety of Rockwell’s paintings spanning across fifty-six years of his career. From early work such as a commissioned painting for the Boy Scouts of America, produced in 1939 to his 1970 painting of American tourists and armed Israeli soldiers in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, this part of the exhibit demonstrates Rockwell’s range of work throughout his life. You will recognize many of the paintings commissioned for the Post magazine covers, however don’t breeze past the less nostalgic paintings. You might be just as captivated by something unknown after looking closer and taking time to read the label.

    The third gallery is much smaller providing the perfect intimate viewing space for all 323 Saturday Evening Post magazine covers featuring Rockwell’s work. In this gallery the prints are chronologically organized by decade and labels provide brief information about social and political history in the United States from 1916 to 1963. Viewing all of the magazine covers together in one collection is such a treat and you will understand why Rockwell was often referred to as “the peoples painter.”

    In the last gallery the exhibit displays Rockwell’s work in the later years of his life such as the painting Problem we All Live With featured in a 1964 issue of Look magazine. Inspired by a young girl named Ruby Bridges, this painting shows her walking with federal marshals on her way to school. In 1960, she was the first African-American to attend William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, LA. They escorted her everyday because of death threats.

    In this last gallery you will see a few other paintings where Rockwell uses his skills and talent to portray other powerful and difficult stories of the civil rights era. This gallery also provides documentation and images of Rockwell’s process as an artist and his communication with his employers. If you forgot what ink from a type writer looks like, these letters will quickly remind you of how slow the world of communication once moved.

    Overall, this exhibit will not disappoint you if have any ounce of interest in the life and work of Norman Rockwell. Even if you were not born until after his death, you will still find so much nostalgia in viewing this exhibition.

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