American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell, an exhibition organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts will be on view in the Frist Center for the Visual Arts
Upper-Level Galleries from November 1, 2013 through February 9, 2014. During this holiday season, visitors will have the opportunity to examine the legendary American illustrators working process and career through his oil paintings, iconic Saturday Evening Post covers, posters, photographs and correspondence.
Representing fifty-six years of the artists career, the works in this exhibition span from folk heroes and frontiersmen to the turbulent events of the 1960s. A reporter at heart, Rockwell told visual stories with meticulous detail and went to great lengths to achieve precision in his studio. However, he is equally recognized for his trademark idealistic tint, affection and humor. "Rockwells paintings are infused with a sense of nostalgia," says Frist Center Curator Trinita Kennedy. "In truth, his work looked back to a simpler time that never was."
Signature works such as No Swimming (1921), Christmas Homecoming (1948) and Triple Self-Portrait (1959) will all be on display, yet even Rockwell aficionados will find something new among the original works of art and Saturday Evening Post covers in this exhibition. Photographs, correspondence and the artists own newspaper clippings used for research provide a glimpse into Rockwells creative process. Included in this exhibition is also a 14-minute film narrated by one of Rockwells sons.
Commenting on the popularity and broad appeal of Rockwells body of work, Ms. Kennedy says, "Although Rockwell was from New York City, he focused on small town life. For baby boomers, he was there chronicling all of the important events such as JFKs presidential campaign and the civil rights movement, along with summer vacation and the holidays. He shaped a generations perception of itself."
As periodicals and books were the primary source of information and entertainment in the first half of the 20th century, Rockwell assumed a crucial role in creating and reflecting public opinion. The Saturday Evening Post was one of the first publications to reach a million subscribers and continued to hold significant influence into the 1960s. Considering the trajectory of illustration as a medium of communication, Rockwells career arc was perfectly timed.
The chronological and thematic organization of the exhibition tells the story of Rockwells career development, and in turn, mirrors the countrys own transformation into a complex modern society during the 20th century. Guests will be able to revisit Rockwells familiar depictions of carefree, idyllic childhood for Boys Life as well as the complications of early adolescence as displayed in works such as Girl at Mirror (1954) and The Discovery (1956) in a broader context. In the 1960s, however, Rockwell developed a more reportorial style while covering social issues such as race relations and poverty for Look magazine. "At The Saturday Evening Post, Rockwell worked under certain editorial restrictions," explains Ms. Kennedy. "For example, he could only depict people of color in positions of service. At Look, a harder-hitting publication, he was searching for greater freedom and new challenges, which is interesting at that later stage in his life and career."
Rockwells first assignment for Lookthe now iconic story illustration The Problem We All Live With (1964)captures six-year-old African American Ruby Bridges, accompanied by four U.S. marshals, en route to her first day at an all-white school in New Orleans. The event continues to resonate as a seminal moment in the civil rights era; Bridges will be interviewed by Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in the new six-episode PBS documentary on African American history, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross premiering on Nashville Public Television and PBS stations nationwide on October 22. Undeterred by criticism he received from readers for his choice of subject matter, Rockwell went on to paint Murder in Mississippi (1965), which illustrated the slaying of civil right workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.
American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell will be shown concurrently at the Frist Center with 30 Americans, an exhibition of works by leading contemporary African American artists and organized by the Rubell Family Collection in Miami. Frist Center Curator Katie Delmez recalls a planning meeting about the seemingly disparate shows: "We knew immediately this scheduling actually provided a wonderful opportunity to have a larger conversation about what it means to be an American. Who and what defines that notion? Can there be multiple definitions? Is one more authentic than the other? How is this translated visually? Indeed, the artists in 30 Americans are asserting that their experiences are every bit as 'American as Rockwells images of Thanksgiving and that they also need to be included in the full picture of American history."