The work I now want to do no longer fits into the Post scheme
February 26, 2020 8:35 AM   Subscribe

The political awakening of Norman Rockwell.
posted by Chrysostom (25 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
 
I love this quote by Rockwell: "You can’t make the good old days come back just by painting pictures of them"
posted by tavella at 8:47 AM on February 26, 2020 [28 favorites]


This was really interesting!
posted by saladin at 9:07 AM on February 26, 2020




What a great article, thanks!
posted by TheCoug at 9:59 AM on February 26, 2020


Great article. But this little bit:

Except for the somewhat too-vivid yellow of the marshals’ armbands — arguably, the picture’s only flaw —

really sticks out to me. Why the design criticism flex? I love the yellow arm bands (same yellow as the ruler the girl carries... hint, hint) and the entire concept of the piece is to make the girl the only Human element in the painting. One of my all time favorite paintings, epithet included.
posted by SoberHighland at 10:12 AM on February 26, 2020 [14 favorites]


Great article, thanks, and also bonus tie-in to another cultural touchstone near the end.
posted by hypnogogue at 10:12 AM on February 26, 2020


I saw Murder in Mississippi in person at the Dayton Art Museum during a traveling exhibition of Rockwell's work. I come from a very artistic family with a number of amateur and professional artists, so I spend a lot of time in art museums. Murder in Mississippi is by far the most powerful painting I've ever seen. Part of it is the jarring difference from Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post work, but most of it's power comes from the painting itself. The link above doesn't do it justice at all.
posted by postel's law at 10:15 AM on February 26, 2020 [22 favorites]


This is fascinating.

As someone who have never really paid any attention to Rockwell, I'm a bit embarrassed that I would have naively guessed he was active in the Victorian era. I guess that's not entirely unintentional. But, I'm astonished the guy was alive in the '70s. I did not expect to hear him praise the yippies. Thanks!
posted by eotvos at 10:16 AM on February 26, 2020 [1 favorite]


This is great, thank you for posting it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:21 AM on February 26, 2020


American Mirror, Deborah Solomon’s biography of Rockwell is a lot better researched than this piece.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:54 AM on February 26, 2020 [1 favorite]


I would hope a full book length biography would be intensively researched.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:02 AM on February 26, 2020 [12 favorites]


He said he wasn't an artist, merely an illustrator.

I respectfully disagree.
posted by mule98J at 11:25 AM on February 26, 2020 [3 favorites]


Wait! The model of one of the marshals from The Problem We All Live With was Officer Obie?!
posted by SPrintF at 11:30 AM on February 26, 2020 [12 favorites]


"I think the hippies and the Yippies are wonderful,” he told the International Herald-Tribune. “I think of everybody as models, and I’m so goddamned sick of business suits with conventional haircuts, like I have.”

I always find this type of sentiment very moving—an older person looking to the younger generation, not with resentment or disdain, but with admiration and a sense of hope.
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:20 PM on February 26, 2020 [29 favorites]


I always find this type of sentiment very moving—an older person looking to the younger generation, not with resentment or disdain, but with admiration and a sense of hope.

I agree completely. Especially if you don't understand young people, as happens to a lot of us as we get older, that's all the more reason to admire them.*

* Assuming the reason you don't understand any particular young person is because somehow they became a Nazi, your disdain of that one is legit
posted by maxwelton at 12:47 PM on February 26, 2020 [7 favorites]


That tomato behind Ruby is extraodinarily violent, and I think, a very smart thing for Rockwell to have done as a way of showing how serious this moment was.
He was also a fan of the Abstract Expressionist painters who became famous in the 1950s, and I always had the sense that that splat might also be a sly nod to them.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 12:54 PM on February 26, 2020 [4 favorites]


The Houston Museum of Fine Arts" currently has an exhibit of Norman Rockwell's work, and includes this painting. It is quite moving. Also on exhibit is the white dress that Rockwell put his model in.

The headline painting of the exhibit is of a man standing up in a town council meeting to give his opinion, as his neighbors listen. Interestingly, this is based on an actual meeting where the subject spoke out to object to funding for public education. He is receiving a polite hearing, and it caused me to wonder how this would play out in the current political environment.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 1:36 PM on February 26, 2020 [2 favorites]


His blatant Abstract Expressionism homage, in this 1962 SEPost cover, Connoisseur, is pretty terrific.

The painting Rockwell's working on in the last picture of the FPP is Sergeant & Konkapot (1972-1976) (link to Norman Rockwell Museum entry, and seen in full here), featuring Rev. John Sergeant, a Yalie and a missionary; his wife, Abigail; and Chief (sometimes Captain) Konkapot, a founder of the town that became Stockbridge, MA (where Rockwell spent the last 25 years of his life).

"Many of the male members of the Mohican Nation fought in Washington’s army in the American Revolution. After the war and upon returning to Stockbridge, members found themselves out-numbered by greedy missionaries... Promising a much larger, permanent tract of land, the United States government persuaded the members to abandon their claims in Massachusetts and remove further south with the Munsee Tribe. By the time the Tribe reached the Munsee Nation, that Nation had been removed and no longer had property to share. In the early 19th century, the Tribe was relocated to the north shores of Lake Winnebago (now known as Stockbridge, Wisconsin)." (History of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohicans, Konkapot.com)

The National Park Service prefers, "During the Revolutionary War, a large number of Stockbridge Indians, as the town’s Native residents came to be known, fought in the Continental Army against the British. Despite that, white colonists dispossessed the Stockbridge Indians of their lands by 1783, the same year the war ended. The Stockbridge Indian community was forced to move several more times before eventually settling in Wisconsin, where the headquarters of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians, a federally-recognized Tribal Nation, remains today." “Footprints of Our Ancestors”: Descendants Bring Stockbridge Mohican History to Life in Virtual Tour (NPS.gov, July 24, 2019)

Learning about Norman Rockwell's thought processes, and following links to his less-familiar work, has been really interesting. I like that one of his last paintings pulls the focus from the national stage to the intimacy of his own backyard, to the wrongdoings in the very "founding" of the nation that set that stage. I wonder who the sitters were for this one (check out Abigail's expression, in the upper right!). Thanks, Chrysostom, for the post, and thanks, Ideefixe, for the bio rec.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:29 PM on February 26, 2020 [9 favorites]


The headline painting of the exhibit is of a man standing up in a town council meeting to give his opinion, as his neighbors listen. Interestingly, this is based on an actual meeting where the subject spoke out to object to funding for public education. He is receiving a polite hearing, and it caused me to wonder how this would play out in the current political environment.
Midnight Skulker

That's Freedom of Speech from Rockwell's "Four Freedoms" series inspired by FDR's famous 1941 State of the Union address. According to the FPP article, Rockwell himself came to doubt it in the political environment towards the end of his own life:
Even more startlingly, he declared in that pivotal year of protest, 1968, that he “couldn’t paint the Four Freedoms now. I just don’t believe in it.”
posted by star gentle uterus at 2:46 PM on February 26, 2020 [4 favorites]


Didn't believe, and moreover was anti-war by the '60s; in contrast, that series grew out of discussions with certain war-related governmental offices, and: "In 1943, inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s address to Congress, Rockwell painted the Four Freedoms paintings. They were reproduced in four consecutive issues of The Saturday Evening Post with essays by contemporary writers. Rockwell’s interpretations of Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear proved to be enormously popular. The works toured the United States in an exhibition that was jointly sponsored by the Post and the U.S. Treasury Department and, through the sale of war bonds, raised more than $130 million for the war effort." (NRM.org)
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:20 PM on February 26, 2020 [3 favorites]


This is an interesting article but the writer doesn't appear to have done much homework. For example, he says "Even the Norman Rockwell Museum can’t make sense of his late-life political transformation." Really? Did he talk with anybody there? (Nobody from the museum is quoted, and a friend at the museum tells me they've never spoken with him.) The reality is that much of what the museum has done in recent years is interpreting Rockwell's social consciousness and commentary, and indeed "making sense" of it.
posted by beagle at 3:30 PM on February 26, 2020 [7 favorites]


Some art-school beatniks like myself were always fans of Rockwell through his un-cool lack of recognition to before now. I poured over Arthur Guptill's 'Norman Rockwell Illustrator' for years. He's also a swell cartoonist.

His use of staged photographs to set up compositions sometimes comes across as quirky, like half-frozen action shots, but that's part of the distinctive style & charm. He apologized to his neighbourhood photo models if they ended up in an unflattering story, and would recycle the same models (and himself) with different hair for crowd scenes.

My fave is the boxing drama scene, 'Strictly A Sharpshooter'.
posted by ovvl at 5:21 PM on February 26, 2020 [2 favorites]


"It’s an illustration for the story “Strictly a Sharpshooter,” by D.D. Beauchamp, who later became a Hollywood screenwriter. [...] My grandfather went to a Columbus Circle boxing club to soak up the atmosphere, get a taste and feel for what the ring was really like." - from "A Norman Rockwell Myth Debunked: The one figure Norman Rockwell told his family he couldn’t draw," an entry in "The Real Rockwell" series of articles by Norman's granddaughter, Abigail Rockwell, in The Saturday Evening Post, April 24, 2015
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:04 PM on February 26, 2020 [3 favorites]


Very interesting article which answered some questions. Always did love this image which evokes so many feelings.

I knew the family who posed for this Sears ad around 1964 and dated the kid getting his hair combed. They lived in Stockbridge then, next door to Norman Mailer, and received a framed print as thanks for posing.

My friend commented that the oldest brother was not present at the shoot but was added in later, with Rockwell altering facial qualities to achieve familial resemblance. And that dog was added in as discussed in the article. Otherwise it’s one family. The handbag was propped up with a brick, and numerous black-and-white photos taken of the pose. Rockwell was described as nice without being particularly friendly, and that the photo shoot went quickly. I heard many stories from family members about life in Stockbridge then; apparently most local residents found themselves in Rockwell’s work eventually.

(Trivia: that kid’s grandfather was a US Surgeon General. I will say no more.)
posted by kinnakeet at 7:04 AM on February 27, 2020 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting- it's an interesting article, though with, as SoberHighland points out, some weird subjective commentary at moments I found jarring. In addition to the yellow armband comment, this one's been sticking in my craw:

Rockwell had plunged into therapy, almost as if he couldn’t stand the idea of Mary monopolizing the shrinks’ attention.


Dude. You spent multiple lines describing his lack of intimacy and emotional unavailability.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:25 PM on February 27, 2020 [1 favorite]


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