The Norman Rockwell exhibition opens Saturday, March 9 at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. It’s exactly what you expect from this icon, but then it’s so much more. Containing 50 original paintings and all 323 Saturday Evening Post covers, it shows the true depth of the artist Norman Rockwell.
The Saturday Evening Post covers are familiar pieces of his work, aspirational images of elements of life we can relate to – coming together on holidays or raising children. Kevin Murphy, curator of American art at Crystal Bridges, says Rockwell is interesting technically because the covers were meant to be reduced in size, and mass produced yet they still contain so much visual richness.
Laurie Norton Moffatt, director and CEO of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, says Rockwell chronicled the history of the 20th century with a firm belief in social justice and civil rights as well as with a great sense of humor. He showed Americans many firsts, from the telephone to television to the walk on the moon.
She adds that during his early career illustrators were in huge demand to create for magazines, which is where people saw images before television. It was not like our digital world of today, where we are bombarded with visuals. “This imagery brought ideas to life,” she says.
Rockwell was a keen observer of human nature and a gifted storyteller. The exhibition, American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell will be on view through May 27. It includes several well-known images including Triple Self-Portrait (1960), Girl at Mirror (1954), Going and Coming (1947), and The Art Critic (1955). The first two put a smile on my face and the latter two each made me audibly laugh.
The Rockwell that I don’t know well is that showing the social and political issues of his time. Murder in Mississippi is an illustration for Look magazine about the 1964 murder of three young civil rights workers. The original unpublished painting, as well as the oil sketch used for publication, are both included in this exhibition.
Also on view in the Crystal Bridges Library will be letters and manuscripts belonging to Norman Rockwell, which are part of the library collection. Crystal Bridges’ first pop-up shop, featuring Rockwell memorabilia and more, will open alongside the exhibition. A wide range of public programs are offered in conjunction with the exhibition, including lectures, gallery talks, art workshops for a variety of ages, and more. More details on the exhibition, program offerings and tickets can be found here: http://crystalbridges.org/Exhibitions/rockwell.