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.

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