Very few artists merit their own museum – Van Gogh, Rodin and Picasso come to mind. So I am overjoyed to add the American artist, Norman Rockwell, to this elite roster. His iconic “Saturday Evening Post” and “Boy’s Life” oversized magazine covers are not only exquisitely executed, but their subject matter uniquely relates our American narrative.
The prolific Rockwell is in a category by himself as a representational artist. He carefully and lovingly captured on canvas those rites of passage, those moments in time, those stories and tall tales that contribute and represent our growth, not only as a nation, but as ourselves.
The thought that went into the creation of these oils and subsequent illustrations – the details, the silent puns, colors, expressions, the angles and poses of the characters in his work – not to mention such tastefully balanced compositions – well, I can think of no other artist/ story teller celebrating the deceptively simple vignettes of daily life. Ultimately, his works underscore the social history of our country. Though his themes are obviously American in nature, they gladly extend a universal tone… we were all kids once… right? He will make you remember that it was not so long ago!
As you approach the 36 acre grand site of the Norman Rockwell Museum, you are immediately at ease with this glorious natural setting and wonderful landscaping. Nature’s handiwork in this tended, glowing pristine panorama is as carefully crafted as the artwork inside. This is nature that has been lovingly nurtured. You can’t help but feel that nothing can ever go wrong here!
Picnic tables abound and Norman’s Main Street Stockbridge art studio, alongside tastefully displayed outdoor sculptors by the artist’s son, Peter, are also on the grounds. This is a rare opportunity to see an artist’s studio, don’t miss the short walk over there from the museum. There is a pleasant terrace café on site, behind the gift shop, offering lovely simple lunches, coffee, and juices alongside some delicious sandwiches prepared by the famous Red Lion Inn. Serve yourself and rest you feet. Or bring you own meal and eat at the outdoor picnic tables.
When you enter the Museum itself, you are immediately welcomed by old friends. There is such a warm flavor, such a comfort zone readily established by these paintings and illustrations, an immediate familiarity sets in…. these are my neighbors, my family, my friends, my colleagues. The majority of us have lived his stories in some form and yes – perhaps, it is a bit idealized, but that further contributes to our nostalgic consciousness, our immediate connection to his works…. indeed our absolute NEED for his vision.
Do not think that Rockwell did not see our country’s faults, you only have to view “The Problem We All Live With” to understand his concerns, and the thoughts behind this impressive and startlingly – both visually and mentally – oil painting.
The landmark paintings/illustrations on display - “The Critic,” “Marriage License,” “The Runaway,” “Saying Grace,” “Girl at Mirror,” “The Golden Rule” – to mention but a few - alongside a roomful of original “Saturday Evening Post” covers (some with the mailing labels still affixed!) – immediately establish our visceral connection to Rockwell and evoke a gamut of emotions.
There is a separate room for his famous paintings illustrating “The Four Freedoms” which were the cornerstones of FDR’s landmark speech delivered during a major turn in the history of our nation. This room is incredibly moving – truly an artistic symphony in four movements – a visualization of democracy at its best.
I was lucky to catch a delightful and informative 12:30 pm lecture given by Meg Williamson who illuminated and highlighted the museum’s holdings. To further add to our knowledge of Rockwell’s personal and professional life, there is a 15 minute video shown continuously downstairs narrated by his son, Peter. Keeping it a family affair, there is currently a display of his son’s, Jasper, fanciful vision. If you are a fan of childhood toys in all shapes and sizes, then you and Jasper have much in common! See for yourself and you’ll understand my reference. There is great joy in Jasper’s work– you sense a shared twinkle in his eye alongside his Father’s.
And to keep visitors on their toes, there is currently another childhood related exhibit to enjoy – “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic” – which will be there through October 27th, 2013. This is a multi-sensory exhibit, and an important one. Like Norman, Walt Disney, too, had his own unique vision.
Walk….Hike….Picnic….View….Explain…. Explore…. Even Shop…you can do it all at the Rockwell. A visit here is truly a “Top Ten Day.” It is open year round, but the Fall season is so glorious in this area, try and get there for this colorful transition.
Contributed by Joanne Theodorou