December 2008 Issue
Get In The Picture
The Ohio Historical Society invites visitors to step inside the world of Norman Rockwell.
For six decades, Norman Rockwell used his artistic talent to leave indelible images of the 20th century in our hearts and minds: an American GI joyously being welcomed home by a neighborhood of friends and family, a trio of umpires deliberating about whether or not to call the game because of rain, a poignant homage to Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech.
No matter the subject, says Connie Bodner, director of education and interpretation services for the Ohio Historical Society, every facet of Rockwell’s work did more than meet the eye.
“He captured kindness, humor, pathos and empathy,” Bodner explains, “and by doing so created an identity for our country.”
But although he’s best known for warm, whimsical portrayals of everyday life, Rockwell didn’t shy away from controversy: His arresting illustrations from the 1960s include his painting of a stoic African-American child ignoring the tomato thrown at her while en route to integrating an elementary school, and a depiction of the Golden Rule as it should apply to all cultures. Both served as a wake-up call to our social conscience.
“No matter what your feelings were about civil rights,” says Bodner, “there’s no way you could look at those paintings and not get the message they convey.”
Through March 1, the Ohio Historical Society invites visitors to travel to “Rockwell’s America.” The exhibit is a comprehensive retrospective that not only includes the original 322 Saturday Evening Post covers he made famous, but also offers the chance to walk inside 15 of the artist’s paintings recreated in life-size 3-D.
“As a history organization, we know that history works best when it’s relevant to people,” says Bodner, “when they can put themselves in it. Here, they can do just that, not only metaphorically, but physically using all their senses.”
Step into Rockwell’s 1930 vision of “Summertime” at the ol’ fishin’ hole with grandpa, amid the smell of grass and wildflowers.
Revisit the 1920s, an era when health care wasn’t a corporate entity, and physicians made time for pediatric whims in “Doctor and Doll.”
“Gossips,” Rockwell’s 1948 humorous take on technology — and the power of a good yarn — features a relic from the not-so-distant past — the rotary-dial telephone. An operator will be standing by to help you make calls and answer questions.
Pint-sized patrons can try their hand manning a World War II assembly line alongside Rosie the Riveter and watch Rockwell work on his “Triple Self-Portrait.”
Despite the fact that the artist’s last painting was completed during the country’s bicentennial, Bodner says she understands why his work continues to strike a chord with all who see it 30 years after his death.
“Rockwell’s images have always given us something to hang onto,” she says, citing the fact that he hit his stride during the tumultuous period between the onset of the Great Depression and the Second World War.
“In times of stress and challenge, I think we’re always looking for meaning,” she adds, “and Rockwell never fails to provide that. When you look at his World War II images, you can’t help but think of Iraq and Afghanistan today.”
Although critics may deem much of Rockwell’s work too idealistic, Bodner begs to differ.
“He didn’t paint America the way it was,” she says. “He painted it the way he wanted it to be.
“And in the process, he drew out the best in people.”