Thursday, June 17, 2010

Telling Real Life Stories

Communicating history through paintings? In a sense, doesn’t every artist do that — capturing and freezing a moment in time?

But no artist that I have ever observed has focused on capturing America’s social history over a 70-year period as consistently as Norman Rockwell, whose museum collection in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, has utterly captivated me. Born in New York in 1894, by the time he was 18 Rockwell produced his first magazine cover for “Boys’ Life,” the leading scouting magazine.

Of course, he became famous for his Saturday Evening Post covers — and there may be over 100 of them in the museum. In fact, he had cover illustrations on nearly every popular magazine of the time. Many of these illustrations — actually, museum quality paintings — touched on American social and family life. Rockwell said, “I showed the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed.”

To me, what made him unique was his storytelling ability: whether depicting boys running from a swimming hole, an old man teaching music to a young boy, 15 folks gossiping, performers playing checkers behind stage at a circus or a boy being examined by a doctor, and so on.

But he also looked beyond small town America, portraying the civil rights struggle, depicting the domestic side of World War II (such as Rosie the Riveter) and more. He touched upon moral issues. He painted portraits of the leading figures of the day, including Charles Lindbergh, Neil Armstrong and Harry Truman. Possibly his most famous historical paintings were his depictions of the Four Freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Worship and Freedom from Want and Fear.

Nearly 400 works by Rockwell are known — and I doubt that there is another artist whose paintings and illustrations penetrated the American home with the essence of our heritage and social fabric as Norman Rockwell. This is visual communications in a very unique form.

Technorati Tags: Norman Rockwell, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Saturday Evening Post, America, communications, public relations, Makovsky

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