Norman Rockwell exhibit visits the BMA

By on November 13, 2012
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The NationalMuseum of American Illustration, Newport, RI, www.americanillustration.org, and American Illustrators Gallery, NYC, www.americanillustrators.com. Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), Volunteer Fireman, 1931, oil on canvas.

Birmingham locals have the opportunity to view one of the largest traveling art collections in the country at the Birmingham Museum of Art (BMA): “Norman Rockwell’s America”.
The exhibit includes 52 original paintings and drawings in addition to all 323 Saturday Evening Post covers Rockwell created between 1916 and 1963.

The National Museum of American Illustration in Newport, R. I., organized the exhibition and it premiered at London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2010.

“We had to find the right Rockwell show for the Birmingham Museum of Art exhibition because there were several different collections traveling across the country. We ultimately decided on this show because it set attendance records at the Dulwich Picture Gallery,” said Graham Boettcher, PhD, William Cary Hulsey Curator of American Art at the Birmingham Museum of Art.
Popular paintings in the exhibit include “The Doughboy and His Admirers”, 1919, oil on canvas; “Cousin Reginald Plays Pirate”, 1917, oil on canvas; and “Bridge Game”, 1948, oil on canvas.

“Everyone has truly embraced this exhibit. We expected people who grew up with Rockwell in their home to be the primary audience, but there have been a lot of younger viewers,” said Boettcher.

Rockwell’s six-decade career coincides with monumental measures of history spanning over four wars, the Great Depression, the space race, and the Civil Rights Movement.

Norman Rockwell’s America™, © 2012 Curated and organized by The NationalMuseum of American Illustration, Newport, RI, www.americanillustration.org, and American Illustrators Gallery, NYC, www.americanillustrators.com. Norman Rockwell (1894 -1978), Two Children Praying, 1954, oil on canvas.

“A lot of the younger audience has typically learned about Rockwell by seeing old Saturday Evening Post covers or Rockwell paintings in their grandparent’s attic,” said Boettcher.
Rockwell’s life was unfortunate, including a divorce in his first marriage, his second wife’s unexpected death, and a fire that burned down his studio, which held most of his works.
After being diagnosed with depression, Rockwell’s psychiatrist claimed he “painted his happiness, but did not live it.”

Despite his misfortunes, “Rockwell began his career at a very early age. He was somewhat of a child prodigy. His parents cultivated his skills by providing him with art lessons and by the age of 19, he was the art director for Boy’s Life, the Boy Scouts of America’s official publication,” said Boettcher.
Periods of Rockwell’s art range from The Roaring Twenties to the Golden Age to his artwork for Coca-Cola. The eras of his work are denoted in “Norman Rockwell’s America”.

“In most of his artwork, Rockwell tries to take the ordinary and mundane and recreate it to be extraordinary,” said Boettcher.

Boettcher ensures the public that Rockwell was a “stickler for accuracy.” The chiaroscuro elements, character motifs, emblems, and realistic details are carefully measured in each of Rockwell’s paintings.

Norman Rockwell’s America™, © 2012 Curated and organized by The NationalMuseum of American Illustration, Newport, RI, www.americanillustration.org, and American Illustrators Gallery, NYC, www.americanillustrators.com. Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), Bridge Game – The Bid, 1948, oil on canvas.

In Rockwell’s “Bridge Game,” he hired an expert bridge player from Chicago to determine the distributed cards since more than 50 million Americans were playing bridge weekly in the 1950s.
In “The Problem We All Live With”, Rockwell photographed several schoolgirls walking to measure the accuracy of Ruby Bridge’s stance, which is depicted in the painting.

Rockwell remains a prominent artist today. In 2011, New Orleans Civil Rights pioneer Ruby Bridges met with President Obama to celebrate the hanging of Rockwell’s famous “The Problem We All Live With” in the White House.

Numerous renditions, notably “Freedom for Want” or “The Thanksgiving Picture”, have been recreated with modern figures such as the Simpsons, the Fantastic Four, and the Justice Society of America.

Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for students with a valid Identification. The exhibition runs from now until Jan. 6, 2013.

Kaylyn Alexander
Staff Writer
kaylyn@uab.edu

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