Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg is on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
in Washington, D.C., from July 2 through Jan. 2, 2011. The exhibition showcases 57 major Rockwell paintings and drawings from these private collections. The museum is the only venue for the exhibition.
Telling Stories is the first major exhibition to explore in-depth the connections between Norman Rockwells iconic images of American life and the movies. Two of Americas best-known modern filmmakersGeorge Lucas and Steven Spielbergrecognized a kindred spirit in Rockwell and each formed significant collections of his work. Rockwells paintings and the films of Lucas and Spielberg evoke love of country, small-town values, children growing up, unlikely heroes, acts of imagination and lifes ironies.
Norman Rockwell is an artist and a storyteller who captured universal truths about Americans that tell us a lot about who we are as a people, said Elizabeth Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Like Rockwell, both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg embrace the idea that ordinary people can become unlikely heroes. I am delighted that the Smithsonian American Art Museum is organizing the first exhibition to explore these new connections between Rockwells art and the movies.
In Norman Rockwells art, we see ourselves, our families and our neighborsthe heart and spirit of America, said Ralph W. Shrader, chairman and CEO of Booz Allen Hamilton. We are delighted to support the Smithsonian American Art Museum on this major project, including an exciting series of public programs.
Rockwell was a masterful storyteller who could distill a narrative into a single frame. His pictures tell stories about the adventure of growing up, of individuals rising up to face personal challenges, the glamour of Hollywood and the importance of tolerance in American life. He created his pictures with strategies similar to those used by filmmakers. He auditioned models for the cast, arranged props and lighted sets and, like a movie director, demonstrated poses and facial expressions.
Lucas, Spielberg and Rockwell perpetuate ideas about love of country, personal honor and the value of family in their work, said Virginia M. Mecklenburg, senior curator and organizer of the exhibition. With humor and pathos, they have transformed everyday experiences into stories revealing the aspirations and values that have sustained Americans through good times and bad.
The exhibition is based on new research into Rockwell, his work and the relationships between the artist and the movies. There is a clear basis in Rockwells biography for the idea that he was looking and thinking about movies. In 1930, he married Mary Barstow, who was a native of Alhambra, Calif., near Los Angeles. During frequent visits to Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s, Rockwell designed posters for several studios and became immersed in the culture of the movie industry.
Rockwells exposure to the business of Hollywood and movie productions affected the process that he used to construct his images. Rockwell once said, If I hadnt become a painter, I would have liked to have been a movie director. He went to great lengths to stage his pictures, laboring over costumes for each figure and the individual props that added to the story he wanted the viewer to understand at a glance. He typically drafted multiple preparatory sketches to get the composition and details exactly right.
The exhibition and its catalog also present Rockwell as a careful observer of the popular culture of his day. Rockwell chose to paint particular subjects with particular points of view and helped Americans adjust to social change through sympathetic and sometimes humorous images. He created scenes that parallel themes also found in movies, popular fiction and current events. For example, during World War II, Rockwell created The Four Freedoms in response to President Franklin D. Roosevelts famous 1941 State of the Union speech. Parallel themes are apparent also in a series of films Why We Fight, directed by Frank Capra between 1942 and 1945.
A 12-minute film, coproduced by the museum and filmmaker Laurent Bouzereau, will be shown continuously in the exhibition galleries. It features interviews with Lucas and Spielberg that reveal their insights into Rockwells art and why certain works appealed to them.