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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cape Cod is Loving Norman

Photo of Norman Rockwell working on a painting.
What can one say about Norman Rockwell that hasn’t already been said? Ask the folks at Heritage Museums & Gardens. This summer, they are presenting Norman Rockwell: Beyond the Easel. The exhibit is a study of Rockwell's process. This exhibit lets you explore the process this iconic American illustrator used to produce his art. As you view over 150 pieces of his work, you will learn how he used his real-live acquaintances as models, staged the “set”, shot the photographs, and how these evolved into paintings. One is left to wonder if he wasn’t in many ways an early performance artist.

After the photographs were taken, Rockwell would use them as a guide in creating very detailed drawings of his subjects. In some of his original works, you can detect the pencil lines under the surface of the paint. Next he would create a wash (paints that have been thinned with oil or turpentine) using all of the values that he intended for the final painting. Then, he would lay in thin layers of color over the wash until he achieved the intensity he desired.

Norman Rockwell painted for the masses. He once said, “I don’t want to paint for the few who can see a canvas in a museum, for I believe that in a democracy, art belongs to the people. I want my pictures to be published”. And published they were, in Leslie’s, The Country Gentleman, Judge, and most famously, The Saturday Evening Post  to name a few. He sold his first piece of cover art to The Saturday Evening Post at the age of 22.
Rockwell photo and the painting it inspired.

Rockwell did illustrations for novels, short stories, and articles, which were often quite different in style and overshadowed by his Post covers. He could take an ordinary occurrence and make it appear extraordinary but with a humorous quality that induced a collective chuckle from readers.  Even so, critics were not often kind in their assessment of his work.

Norman Rockwell served in the armed forces, remaining state-side during his service. He loudly proclaimed his patriotism through his art as evidenced in such famous series as the Willie Gillis series, Rosie the Riveter, and the Four Freedoms, which contributed to the success of war bond sales during World War II. The Four Freedoms is perhaps the most famous of these series, the theme representing, and bearing the titles of, the four essential human rights of “Freedom of Speech”, “Freedom of Worship”,” Freedom from Want”, and “Freedom from Fear.” The impetus for these paintings came from a 1941 State of the Union speech made by then President, Franklin Roosevelt.

As an added treat, featured in the Auto Museum at Heritage will be some of Rockwell’s images that include automobiles. These automobiles are actually included in the exhibit. One is a 1951 Ford Country Squire as seen in his illustration entitled “Closing up for the Summer”. As in all of his pieces, these exemplify his meticulous attention to detail to enable the realistic painting style that he embraced.

For 46 years Rockwell drew from current events to produced art to grace the cover of The Saturday Evening Post that exhibited humor, patriotism, and in some instances courage, while providing us with a view of ourselves. Through this pictorial legacy, Norman Rockwell has made an immeasurable contribution to American art.

Photo of painting entitled Music Hath Charms
Music Hath Charms
An art major in college in the late 1960's, and a lover of realism, I have always loved Norman Rockwell. For our first anniversary, my husband gave me a hand signed, artists' proof, collotype of Rockwell's entitled "Music Hath Charms" which was a Post cover on November 4th, 1939. I have also had for many years a lithograph entitled "Convention" that was a Post cover on May 3rd, 1941. It is also an artist's proof that was signed by Mr. Rockwell himself. I love them both but "Music Hath Charms" remains one of my most loved possessions. They are both proudly displayed in our bed and breakfast.

Many of the guests who have stayed at our inn this spring have taken the opportunity to visit this amazing exhibit and have come away loving Norman. We hope you will too.


Jan Preus, the Innkeeper, chef, and artist in residence at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

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