The art of Norman Rockwell has been part of the national conversation for over a hundred years. There’s something about his work that is so easily recognizable you can spot it from across a room or with a simple glance.
Yesterday, I journeyed up to Lithopolis, Ohio to view a traveling exhibit called “Norman Rockwell in the 1940s: A View of the American Homefront.” It’s on display at the Wagnalls Memorial Library and is available for viewing on select days through this month.
It’s on loan from the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockwell, Massachusetts which is home to the world’s most significant collection of Rockwell’s work.
This isn’t a large collection but it is powerful and well worth a stop if you’re in the area.
You’ll find his most famous works – the Four Freedoms which depict freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech and freedom of worship. These are some of the most reproduced works in the world.
There are also patriotic works depicting Rosie the Riveter and life on the home front. In 1945, this cover depicted a young soldier, home from war and happily helping his mother peel potatoes.
This is an illustration, not a photo. However, it looks so realistic you almost expect the woman to turn and smile at you.
Look at the veins in her hands, the lines on her face. The expression of joy and relief is mixed with something else. Maybe a little disbelief that her son is home. Maybe a little wonder at how much he has changed. It’s truly a lovely moment and one so skillfully illustrated that it draws the viewer right in.
Another depicts a sailor home on leave while yet another depicts a young soldier returning home to a tenement. You have to wonder how many young men left less than ideal circumstances at home and found a better life trajectory because of the war.
There are some fun pieces too including a tattoo artist crossing out women’s names on a man’s bicep. There are a couple of April Fool’s covers that are much like an Easter egg hunt to find the things that are off. How many things can you find wrong with this cover?
In all, it’s a nice collection.
I have read that artists and critics of his age didn’t take his work seriously. It is often sweet and sometimes sentimental. It is sometimes a bit idealistic but I like to think Rockwell’s work reflects the values of another time while preserving threads of humanity that we all can still relate to some eighty years later.
He created 4,000 pieces of artwork in his lifetime. There’s something very smart about his work and something practical in that sensible New England kind of way. I think that Rockwell could see the world for what it was but sometimes chose to show his audiences the world as he wished it to be.
Despite what the critics said, he must have done something right. After all, we’re still talking about him.
Go if you get a chance. It’s free but only open during certain hours Thursday and Saturday through June 30. Get more info by clicking here. If you go, be sure to explore this magnificent library and view the two original Norman Rockwell pieces in their permanent collection.
This library is amazing so check back to see imagery and to read a little story about it this week.