Phoenix Art Museum

photo by John Hazeltine

Phoenix, Arizona



Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People


The Phoenix Art Museum is proud to present the first comprehensive exhibition of the art of Norman Rockwell, exploring his unparalleled role as an American icon-maker and storyteller. Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People, organized by the High Museum of Art Atlanta, and The Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge, will be on view in the Museum's South Wing, January 27 - May 6, 2001. Featuring more than 70 of Rockwell's oil paintings and all 322 of his Saturday Evening Post covers, Pictures for the American People offers visitors an in-depth look at the work of an artist who helped forge a sense of American identity and common values.

"Rockwell's unique talent was to capture the commonplace and make it extraordinary for Americans," said James Ballinger, director of Phoenix Art Museum. "As one of the most popular artists in American history, this exhibition demonstrates why Rockwell was loved by so many Americans. But more importantly, this is a tribute to Rockwell as more than a magazine illustrator; he was a master of realism."

"Phoenix Art Museum is delighted to bring this groundbreaking exhibition to the Southwest," continues Ballinger. "As well, we are pleased to be able to again provide a wonderful educational experience to over 21,000 schoolchildren from around the state who will tour the exhibition."

In November 1999, Pictures for the American People opened its national tour in Atlanta followed by showings in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and San Diego. After its stay at Phoenix Art Museum, the exhibition travels to The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, June 9 - October 8, 2001, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, November 16, 2001 - March 3, 2002.

Many of the works on view in Pictures for the American People are drawn from the permanent collection of The Norman Rockwell Museum, including such beloved and well-known images as the Four Freedoms (1943), The Marriage License (1955), Girl at Mirror (1954), Golden Rule (1961), Going and Coming (1947), and New Kids in the Neighborhood (1967). These paintings are augmented by significant and seldom-seen loans from private collections and an array of institutions, including The Brooklyn Museum of Art (Tattoo Artist, 1944), The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (Game Called Because of Rain, 1949) and the Berkshire Museum (Shuffleton's Barbershop, 1950). (left: Girl at Mirror, Saturday Evening Post cover, March 6,1954, oil on canvas, 31 1/2 x 29 1/2, © 1954 The Curtis Publishing Company. From the permanent collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge, Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust)

Also featured in the exhibition are materials demonstrating how Rockwell worked, proceeding from preliminary sketches, photographs, color studies, and detailed drawings to the finished painting.


Themes in the Career of an American Icon Maker

Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People demonstrates how Rockwell images provided Americans with a vocabulary for describing and celebrating themselves, their country and their experiences in the 20th century. It also illuminates the relationship between Rockwell and the magazines and advertisers for whom he worked, and how they influenced his subject matter. Viewers will find the sentimental and humorous pictures for which Rockwell is best known, as well as images such as The Problem We All Live With (1964) in which he movingly addressed complex social and political issues.

Rockwell created pictures that bridged the old and the new, offering Americans a sense of comfort as the 20th century introduced them to a seemingly endless series of changes, the inventing of America. In Going and Coming (1947), for example, Rockwell shows how the proliferation of automobiles after World War II helped to create a new type of family vacation. (left: Going and Coming , Saturday Evening Post cover, August 30,1947, oil on canvas, 16 x 31 1/2 and 16 x 31 1/2 inches, © 1947 Curtis Publishing Company. From the permanent collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge, Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust)

Rockwell's work also generated a visual encyclopedia of characters and scenes from American history, meeting a palpable need for shared heritage - a need that became more pressing as waves of immigrants changed American society and as international upheavals pushed the United States into the forefront of world affairs. Rockwell's pictures of colonial times, holidays and great leaders in American history (Lincoln for the Defense, 1962) provided Americans with shared images of a common past.

Rockwell's celebration of the commonplace in his works indicates his remarkable ability to focus on everyday moments and elevate them to new significance. The boys "caught in the act" in No Swimming (1921) become more than characters in an anecdote; they serve as instantly recognizable icons, representing the joys and pitfalls of youthful high spirits. (left: No Swimming , Saturday Evening Post cover, June 4, 1921, oil on canvas, 25 1/4 x 22 1/4 inches, © 1921 Curtis Publishing Company. From the permanent collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge, Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust)

The exhibition also brings together Rockwell's images that honor the American spirit - works that address complex social issues, promote patriotism and examine ideas that were important to American life. In the act of portraying momentous developments such as the two World Wars, the civil rights movement, and the moon landing, Rockwell also helped build consensus around these events. The Four Freedoms (1943) gave visible form to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's concepts, and as such, were the centerpiece for a major government campaign explaining "why we fight." These four paintings served as the focal point of a traveling exhibition and war bond drive that elicited sales of more than $132 million in war bonds.(left: Freedom of Speech, Saturday Evening Post, February 20, 1943, oil on canvas, 45 3/4 x 35 1/2 inches, © 1943 The Curtis Publishing Company. From the permanent collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge, Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust)


From the Studio to the Magazine Cover

The exhibition also brings visitors into Rockwell's studio and his creative process. Taking as an example Art Critic (1955), a work made for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, the exhibition traces the artist's complex, time-consuming working method, from rough sketches to photographs of models, to pencil and oil studies, to the final painting and the published magazine cover.

The exhibition presents all 322 covers that Rockwell produced for The Saturday Evening Post, the most popular American magazine in the first half of the 20th century.


Major Publication Accompanies Exhibition

Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People, a fully illustrated, 200-page accompanying catalog published by the Norman Rockwell Museum and the High Museum of Art, is distributed by Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, and is available for purchase at Phoenix Art Museum. The volume provides an unprecedented range of written perspectives on Rockwell's work. Taken together, these essays offer an unusually broad approach to the artist's life and work, using visual analysis, cultural history and mass media studies to look critically at Rockwell's role in influencing American perceptions of the 20th century. The book features 80 high-quality color plates, as well as reproductions of archival photographs.

Among the essayists and contributing writers are: Robert Coles, the distinguished child psychiatrist and a friend of Norman Rockwell; Dave Hickey, a well-known critic of contemporary culture; Robert Rosenblum, a noted art historian and curator; Neil Harris, an acclaimed historian of popular culture with the University of Chicago; Wanda M. Corn, a highly regarded art historian; Karal Ann Marling, a cultural historian and critic and author of Norman Rockwell (1997); Steven Heller, art director for The New York Times Book Review; Thomas Hoving, former director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Peter Rockwell, a sculptor and son of Norman Rockwell; Laurie Norton Moffatt, director of the Norman Rockwell Museum; and Ned Rifkin, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director of the High Museum of Art.

Other contributing essayists are the co-curators of Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People: Anne Knutson, guest curator, High Museum of Art; Maureen Hart Hennessey, chief curator, the Norman Rockwell Museum; and Judy L. Larson, former curator of American Art at the High Museum and current executive director of the Art Museum of West Virginia.

A bilingual random-access audio guide to the exhibition, produced by Antenna Audio, Inc. in conjunction with Phoenix Art Museum, will be provided to visitors. The audio guide, no larger than a ceil phone, offers an adult audio track, a children's and family track and a Spanish language track. Additionally, the Museum will present a full series of public lectures by such authorities as Norman Rockwell's youngest son, Peter Rockwell, and Robert Rosenblum, curator of twentieth-century art at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Programs also will be presented in North Scottsdale and Prescott, Arizona. Phoenix Art Museum also will provide a special satellite store, Rockwell's Emporium. Open during exhibition hours, Rockwell's Emporium will feature exhibition-related products, gifts, souvenirs and books.

The exhibition and its national tour are made possible by Ford Motor Company. The exhibition and its accompanying catalogue are also made possible by The Henry Luce Foundation. Additional support is provided by The Curtis Publishing Company and The Norman Rockwell Estate Licensing Company. Education programs for the national tour are made possible by Fidelity Investments through the Fidelity Foundation. In Arizona, Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People is presented by Qwest. Major support is provided by Bank of America. Additional support is provided by SRP, BlueCross BlueShield of Arizona, KPNX-TV Channel 12, Eller Media Company, J.W. Kieckhefer Foundation, Michael and Heather Greenbaum, and Barbara Turner Hitchcock.

Call the museum or visit its website for the specific hours and admission fees for this exhibition.

Read earlier articles on Norman Rockwell:

Read more about the Phoenix Art Museum in Resource Library Magazine.

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/6/11

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