OMA: American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell

This exhibit, which will be open from March 1 until May 26, showcases the work of Norman Rockwell (1894 to 1978) that quintessential American Artist. The main gallery is filled with original oils, a film area, and a sub-gallery showing the development of a particular piece. The second gallery contains “tear sheets” from the Saturday Evening Post.

Rockwell, while depicting every day life in rural and small town America, took political stances and made controversial statements about human rights, racism, feminism and the economy. His gentle style softened the hammer he took to societal wrongs both here and abroad, while poignantly conveying his message.

The exhibit includes the original oils for “The Four Freedoms” which are “Freedom of Speech,” “Freedom of Worship,” “Freedom from Want” and “Freedom from Fear.” Portraits of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower grace one wall, while depictions of Ichabod Crane and Abraham Lincoln face each other on another.

A separate area is dedicated to two works of art, “The Problem We All Live With” (1964, Look magazine) and “Murder in Mississippi.” “The Problem We All Live With,” an essay in creams and whites with the stark contrast of the little girl’s skin, the headless marshals’ spit-polished shoes and one tomato shames us. Are the marshals guarding Ruby Bridges or caging her? How could America be afraid of a five year old school girl?

A 35 foot wall shows the development of “Murder in Mississippi,” a painting Rockwell did for a book which was never published. Pencil sketches, photographs, rejected layouts and the newspaper clippings which inspired the work demonstrate some of the steps in the creative process. Smaller works on racism and letters to Rockwell are displayed on the other walls.

Rockwell had no patience with racism. In his autobiography, My Adventures as an Illustrator, he notes that he once was told to paint over an African-American person in a painting because the Saturday Evening Post had the ludicrous policy which dictated that African-Americans could only be depicted in service industry jobs.

The second gallery contains “tear sheets” of every cover he did for the Saturday Evening Post. There are 323 covers, from 1916 until 1963. You can trace Rockwell’s development as an artist, his increasing boldness and comments on American life, the economy, war, interpersonal relationships and, finally, his growing boredom with the genre as television supplanted magazines as a source of news, and his assignments shifted from situational art to celebrity portraits. In 1963, he left the Post for Look magazine, where he was encouraged to comment on civil rights, poverty and space exploration.


The Orlando Museum of Art (OMA), at 2416 North Mills Ave., Orlando, is another small fine arts museum. The permanent exhibition galleries are: the American Art Collection, art from the 18th, 19th and 20th century; the Art of Ancient Americans spans North and South American, from 2000 BCE to 1521 CE; the African Art Collection displays ceremonial objects, common artifacts, jewelry and elaborate beaded pieces. The three other galleries are used for temporary exhibits and special events.

During the year, the first Thursday of every month is a special event. From 6 to 9 p.m., adult admission is reduced to $5. Museums are normally quiet, sedate places but not on 1st Thursday. The rooms are filled with electricity as people mingle, questioning the artists about their techniques and inspiration, comparing and critiquing the works on display. The opportunity to actually discuss a work with its creator is a not-to-be-forgotten experience. Finding out why an artist takes a particular view of a situation, the specific medium was chosen, the shades of meaning the artist wants to convey, discovering an unusual historic perspective will all deepen your appreciation of the piece. The art is selected as much for its provocative nature as for its quality. And because the work is only on display for the one night, art lovers from all walks of life come out, sharing their opinions and insights freely.

Local restaurants have snacks, tapas and assorted finger foods for sale. Two beer and wine bars are set up for the adults, with soda and bottled water for those underage. Jazz bands or quartets set up in the Chihuly gallery in the shadow of the “Citron and Cobalt Tower.” Wandering minstrels add to your musical enjoyment. You can take a break in the Chihuly room to listen to some music or sip a glass of wine before you go on to the permanent exhibits, other temporary galleries or watch the performance pieces in the auditorium.

The February “1st Thursday” was dedicated to W.O.M.A.N.: Wisdom, Originality, Mystique, Ambition, Nurturing, all works by or about women. Pieces by local artists Julie Kessler (, Ellen Lindner, Marcy Lane Witmer ( and Claudia Backes (, and over 40 other artists were included in the exhibit, which spilled over into the adjoining hallway. Oil, watercolor, ceramic, wood and metals were among the media used in this exhibition. The Fusion Dance Troupe and GO PURE Dance Troupe ( performed in the auditorium and paraded through the gallery.

Temporary exhibit Points of View: Exploring Identity, Commenting on Society and Comparing Visions, through October contains works normally in storage due to space constrictions. The corridor leading into the gallery holds Faces in the Crowd, photographic retrospectives of persons famous, infamous and unknown. The themes of self-knowledge, the individual’s place within society and how individual and societal needs converge and diverge worked very well with the 1st Thursday exploration of women’s changing roles.
Through July 6, as an enhancement to the permanent African Art Exhibit, Of Cloth and Culture: African Textiles from the Norman Canelas and William Roth Collection, displays kente cloths and beadwork, aprons and fine wovens, most made by women.

Previous 1st Thursday events have explored woodturning, illustrative art (posters and book art), the color red, photography and graffiti artists. Upcoming 1st Thursday themes are: March 6th will be “Beatniks and Bongos: Abstract Art,” art of or inspired by the 50's, with plenty of ‘snaps’ for local poets Frank Messina, Brad Kuhn and Darlyn Finch, former Kerouac House Artist in Residence, who will be reading selected pieces from their books. April 3rd is “Beyond Geppetto,” the history and evolution of puppetry and puppet performance, famous puppets in literature, stage, film and television. May 1st is “Rock, Paper, Scissors: Art of Assemblage & Collage,” art which is composed of other art. Think Alexander Calder, Eric Carle, Henri Matisse, all famous artists who work with bits of paper and glue. June 5th honors “Art<12: Small Works/Large Images,” powerful works in miniature, confirming that less CAN be more. All works will be less than 12" by 12" including mat, frame and base.

Every spring, the medium gallery hosts an exhibition of children’s book art. Artists previously honored include Clement Hurd, who illustrated Margaret Wise Brown’s classics, Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny, and his son Thacker Hurd, author/illustrator of ArtDog and Mama Don’t Allow, and Margaret and HA Rey of the Curious George books. Themes have included geographic alphabet books and optical illusion. “The World of William Joyce,” creator of the Dinosaur Bob books, opens May 18 until August 31. Special areas are set up for reading, acting out scenes in the works and where children can create their own renditions inspired by the artist or theme of the exhibition.

“American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell” opens March 1 until May 26, traces the artist’s career, cultural influences and the broad accessibility of his work. Paintings, original illustrations and the complete set of Saturday Evening Post cover tearsheets are just part of the exhibit.

In November, a ten day “Festival of the Trees” takes over the museum. Christmas trees, tableaus, wreaths and gingerbread houses decorated or sponsored by local businesses and families are displayed in every available space. All of the displayed items can either be purchased or are raffled off as part of the “Council of 101" fund-raising event. The main area also has a children’s craft area, letter writing to Santa via snail mail or email and of course, the Big Man himself, Santa, puts in an appearance each day. Jazz bands, pianists, and high school choirs perform throughout the day.

The Orlando Museum of Art is located at 2416 North Mills Avenue (I4 East to Exit 85E, Princeton Street East. Go past the Orlando Science Center and make a left at North Mills into Loch Haven Park). Hours are Tues to Friday, 10 to 4; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 4 pm. 1st Thursday is the first Thursday of each month from 6 to 9 p.m. The phone number is (407) 896-4231 and the web address is Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for those 65 and over and college students with ID. Children 5 to 18 are $5, children under 5 are free at all times. 1st Thursday events, admission is reduced to $5 for adults, seniors and college student


Making words sing, feeling them hit is the goal of every writer. “I believe poetry begins right at the point where the limits of prose have been exhausted. Right on that line, poetry pops up and appears,” stated Billy Collins, former United States Poet Laureate (2001to 2003), New York State Poet Laureate (2004 to 2006) and featured reader at Valencia Community College’s Kerouac Celebration program on Feb 23, 2008.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of On the Road, Jack Kerouac’s seminal novelization of his cross-country misadventures, the program featured eight student readers, three faculty and three local authors in addition to Mr. Collins, all reading original works, showing us the extent of Kerouac’s influence on modern poetry and prose alike.

Novelist, poet, artist, Jack Kerouac (1922 to 1969), born in the mill town of Lowell, Mass., is the quintessential symbol of the 60’s “Beat Generation.” Berets, snapping fingers, bongo music in dark smoke-filled nightclubs have become cultural reference points for poets and wanna-be poets the world over. Whenever a comedian waves his arms and intones, “The sun, the moon, the stars,” and closes his eyes soulfully, he is picking up on the worst of that time period. The Kerouac Celebration was designed to show us the best of that reverberation.

For those of you who missed today's program, the next event honoring Kerouac’s life will be a free jazz concert performed by the David Amram Quartet, on Friday, March 28, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Crane’s Roost Park, Altamonte Springs. The David Amram Quartet recorded the soundtrack to “Pull My Daisy” with Kerouac narrating.

Kerouac lived in the College Park neighborhood of Orlando, 1957 to 1959, and wrote The Dharma Bums while there. The Kerouac Project ( selects four writers per year to be an “artist in residence” at Kerouac House on Clouser Avenue, Orlando. For eleven weeks, the writer gets to live and write in a small cracker house on a lovely tree-lined block. Some of the writers co-teach at Valencia Community College, and all host an evening of poetry reading at the end of their tenure.

The star voice of the festival, Billy Collins ( ) is an accessible writer, using common vocabulary to convey seemingly simple ideas, but always with an insightful twist. He discussed literature, poetry and the creative process in between poems. The first work Collins read was “Hippos on Holiday,” speculating on whether hippos go on holiday and if so, why and where? He followed with “Bathtub Family,” a discourse on bathtub toys and their tendency to take over the bath, bathroom and life. As the laughter dies, Collins said, “When I finish a poem, a good poem … sometimes I feel as if the attendants will be coming in at any moment to take me, gently, for a walk around the grounds. Especially when I am in Newport, Rhode Island where things are… [Collins looks up at the ceiling for a few seconds] what they are.” He smiles at the audience’s rapt appreciation of the madness of the creative process. To quote E.L. Doctorow, author of Ragtime and Billy Bathgate, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”

Collins followed with “Flock,” a poem about sheep and not how many sheep can dance on the head of a pin, but how many will be skinned for each edition of the Guttenberg Bible. “Adage” takes apart homilies and sayings, then puts them back together in a work of genius, just as he takes apart and remakes the rules of poetry.

Discussing Kerouac’s release of On the Road when Collins was 16, “Growing up in New York, I never knew just how big America is, how it has so much space. Kerouac’s honesty and sincerity keep the book flowing, greatly influenced me. He was looking for something, as we all are…People tend to romanticize that…it was mostly coffee. Just a lot of pots of coffee.”

At the end of the four hours of reading and listening to poetry and prose, Mr. Collins quipped, “Alright, it’s midnight, let’s go. Or at least it feels like midnight.” No, that is not an implication that the afternoon was tedious or boring, but rather that listening to excellent poetry and prose can be exhausting. Both the reader and the listener experience catharsis, an emotional drain during the process. “There is a contract between the reader and the writer. [I feel that] the writer is someone who talks to me, has something to say to me. And that is how I treat my readers,” Collins told the audience at one point during his hour on stage, as they leaned forward in their seats, ears turned to catch every word.

The event opened with student writers, current and recent Valencia attendees. Chadwick Sterling, Rochelle Davis, Emily Beardsley and Carmelo Spatazza read recent works on politics, hurricanes, love, music and crickets. Alex Copeland picked a few poems which were very concise and sharp, inspired by his father, as opposed to Amanda Leezer, who read a rambling discourse on family relationships, the style an effective parallel to the content. Natalie Rose Frith’s work shows the continuing influence of Hemingway but she adds a lyric quality all her own. Her writing on Florida life and travel are always thought provoking. Jared Christopher Silvia displayed his unique sense of humor and twisted outlook on life in the seemingly clueless ramblings of his character, Peter Gondewski, an everyman standing under a luckless cloud. A few years from now, while browsing the shelves at your local bookshop, remember you saw their names here first.

Faculty readers John Hughes, Ilyse Kusnetz and James Thomas were next on stage. Prof. Hughes, author of The Novels and Short Stories of Frederick Barthelme, related a short story from the viewpoint of a twelve year old boy whose parents recently separated. Prof. Thomas’, who received the first place award in the Best Emerging Writer category from the Florida Literary Arts Alliance in 1999, read a piece which takes place at a funeral and includes all the long-lost relatives you wish would stay lost. Prof. Kusnetz’s selected readings included “Frog in a Frying Pan,” “Ode to Pluto” and “Green Oranges.”

They were followed by Darlyn Finch, former Kerouac Artist in Residence and author of Red Wax Rose and Three Houses. Ms. Finch will be reading at the Orlando Museum of Art’s 1st Thursday on March 6th. She also maintains Sunscribbles, a website for the central Florida literary scene ( ). Terry Godbrey, winner of the 2006 Slipstream award for her chapbook, Behind Every Door and Susan Lilley, winner of the Yellow Jacket Press Chapbook for Night Windows, also read. Slipstream ( and Yellow Jacket Press ( ), at the Blake School of Arts in Tampa, are publishers of new and established poets and writers.

The David Amram Quartet ( will be performing on Friday, March 28, from 7 to 9 pm at Crane’s Roost Park in Altamonte Springs ( (I4 east to Exit 92, route 436). There is no charge for this concert; however donations are graciously accepted by the Kerouac Project, a not-for-profit charitable organization (The Kerouac Project, PO Box 547477, Orlando, Fl, 32854-7477 or ). For more information on events at Valencia Community College, call 407-299-5000 or visit them on the web at