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Norman Rockwell Museum Presents Retrospective of Fifty Years of America

STOCKBRIDGE, MA.- From scenes of childhood innocence to the tragic Murder in Mississippi, the arc and evolution of Norman Rockwell’s art and its defining role in 20th-century American visual culture is the subject of a major exhibition held at Norman Rockwell Museum this summer. American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell, a traveling exhibition organized by Norman Rockwell Museum, opens at the Museum on July 4 and runs through September 7, 2009.

The exhibition features over 70 works from Norman Rockwell Museum’s collections, including oil paintings and preparatory sketches, as well as archival photographs and documents that illuminate the artist’s process.

“American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell explores the artist’s unparalleled role as an icon-maker and storyteller,” said Laurie Norton Moffatt, Director/CEO of Norman Rockwell Museum. “Rockwell’s images created a visual catalogue of how America saw itself from World War I through the early 1970s. As the preeminent figure in the field of illustration, Rockwell remains tremendously influential within America’s visual culture. We are delighted to bring our national traveling exhibition American Chronicles to Stockbridge during our 40th anniversary year to celebrate the start of our fifth decade as the home for the appreciation of American illustration art and the legacy of Norman Rockwell.”

Born in 1894, Rockwell remained active as an artist into the mid-1970s. Beginning with his first Saturday Evening Post cover in 1916, he quickly rose to prominence. When his career began, illustration was the dominant form of visual communication through wide-circulation periodicals; it remained an essential aspect of America’s increasingly crowded visual culture throughout his working life. By the time of his death in 1978, he had witnessed—and chronicled—transformational generations in American history. During the course of his life and career, America fought in two world wars, emerged as a world power, began to address profound social issues of women’s rights and civil rights for African Americans, and landed a man on the moon. Rockwell’s art documented these major changes, as well as the quieter moments of everyday life, for a mass audience.

Most famous for his covers for the Saturday Evening Post, Rockwell created artworks for numerous other magazines that had circulations in the millions, including Boys’ Life, Country Gentlemen, Ladies’ Home Journal, Literary Digest, and Look. He produced advertising images for Campbell’s Soup, Colgate, and Pan Am; panels for Hallmark greeting cards; and images for fund-raising calendars distributed by the Boy Scouts of America.

Together, these images represent a body of work that pays detailed homage to the commonplace, ennobling the ordinary to reveal the extraordinary and reflecting American culture, society, traditions, and progress through Rockwell’s unique lens of compassion and decency. As Rockwell wrote, “Commonplaces never become tiresome. It is we who become tired when we cease to be curious and appreciative.”

American Chronicles includes paintings that range from the humorous to the inspiring to the humble. Rockwell frequently painted images of children, which were popular among magazines and their readers: boys fleeing from a forbidden swimming hole, an enthralled scout listening to an elderly man’s tale, a young girl contemplating her reflection in a mirror and wondering whether she’ll ever be as beautiful as the movie star depicted in a magazine that sits in her lap.

American historical figures, both fictional and real, were often found in his work: Yankee Doodle; Ichabod Crane; a painting of an imposing Abraham Lincoln as a defense attorney created during the Civil Rights struggle; and presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.

American Chronicles looks at the commonplace concerns of adults are as well. A smartly dressed woman haggles with a scruffy brass merchant during the height of the Depression; a cluster of men in a diner listen to a radio report of war news in 1944; a well-fed business man on the train home grapples with an expense report in the increasingly affluent ’50s.

Highlights of the exhibition include Four Freedoms, a series Rockwell created after hearing Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 address to Congress championing the freedoms of speech and religion and freedoms from want and fear. In 1943, the paintings were sent on a national tour and helped raise $133 million worth of war bonds and stamps.

Several of Rockwell’s iconic paintings from the 1960s will be in the exhibition: Golden Rule (1961), which shows a myriad of people from across the globe along with the legend, “DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU”; The Problem We All Live With (1963), which depicts a brave young African-American girl being escorted to school by U.S Marshals in front of a wall scrawled with a harsh racial epithet; and the 1965 Murder in Mississippi, which tells the story of three slain Civil Rights workers. Along with Murder in Mississippi, the Museum will exhibit archival materials including 1964 newspaper stories about the murders that Rockwell kept in his files, notes Rockwell made about the slain men, staged photographs that the artist used in composing the painting, and preparatory drawings.

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