Don’t Miss: Norman Rockwell Exhibit at the Frist Through Feb. 2014
The very name Norman Rockwell conjures up images of those candid moments of life captured on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. No doubt we all have our favorites, each picture telling a story that we intimately understand.
Rockwell is recognized as America’s most prominent twentieth-century illustrator, a man of extraordinary dedication and passion, born in New York City in 1894. He painted stories of life, about people, their attitudes towards each other, and his feelings about them.
American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell, is an amazing exhibit of Rockwell’s life work on display at The Frist Center for the Visual Arts from November 2013- February 9, 2014. This is the perfect tour to add to your holiday activities and a special treat for your out-of-town guests.
Visiting the exhibit is more of a personal journey through almost a century timeline of life in America. Each painting, fashioned after the style of the Masters, is done on big canvas, capturing every detail.
Norman Rockwell’s artistic talent showed up early in life. As a young boy he listened to his father read aloud from the books of Charles Dickens in the evenings, and would sit sketching the characters described in the stories. The influence of Dickens was powerful, and affected his way of looking at life.
By 1916, at age 22, his career hit an early peak when one of his paintings made the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. He continued with them for 47 years and illustrated 323 covers, all of which are on display in this exhibit at The Frist. In that momentous year, his illustrations were also on the covers of Life, Judge, and Leslie’s, reaching more than 2 million families each week.
His son, Peter, recalls that his father worked 8:00-5:30 seven days a week his entire career, never taking a day off except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Rockwell created masterpieces for the covers and pages of the nation’s periodicals rather than the walls of galleries and museums. Before TV, weekly magazines were America’s entertainment, eagerly awaited for their fiction, current events and feature stories.
One of the classic Rockwell images captures a lighthearted moment in Boys and Dogs on the Run after being caught skinny-dipping. The use of strong black lines of the border freezes the moment as if the boys were running out of the page itself, an example of Rockwell’s ability to add realism to his paintings.
He liked to take the ordinary moments and make them heroic. The painting of a young grocery clerk studying in the back room is reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln in the surrounding ‘snapshot’ pictures. It portrays the notion that, with diligence, a person of meager means can aspire to greatness.
A scout rescuing a child from a swollen river in the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 was painted for the 1941 Boy Scout Calendar, and celebrates the ideal of helpfulness, one of the 12 values of Scout Law.
Rockwell understood human nature so well. The Stay at Homes (Outward Bound), a young boy and his grandfather looking out to sea, invites us to place ourselves in that particular role, empathetic with either of two different perspectives.
His preparation for a painting was extraordinarily detailed and painstaking. Sometimes as many as one hundred reference photographs, a series of sketches, sessions with models, charcoal and color studies, were done before he actually sat down to paint on canvas. Norman Rockwell was a perfectionist. Unlike most artists, he also changed his signature to suit the style of each of his paintings.
In the 1960s, following the changing evolution of society in America, Rockwell left behind his story-telling scenes and began documenting social issues. His famous depiction of civil rights issues helped to humanize the experience of a black child needing a military escort to school in the early days of school desegregation.
Rockwell drew and painted over four thousand images in his lifetime and in 1977 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor for his life’s work. He died the next year at 84, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, leaving one of the most well-loved legacies chronicling life in America.
We have the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to thank for bringing this wonderful exhibit to Nashville. Visitors are sure to enjoy the Family Guide that offers interactive exercises paired with select paintings throughout the tour.
What’s your favorite Rockwell work?
Photographs courtesy of The Frist and the Norman Rockwell Museum.