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Freedom: Norman Rockwell's Vermont Years


Images that defined America resonate profoundly in the Norman Rockwell Museum's new exhibition, "Freedom: Norman Rockwell's Vermont Years," on view from June 7, 2003 to October 19, 2003. The second exhibit in a three-part retrospective presented by the Museum that examines Rockwell's life, work, and the communities in which he lived, "Freedom" focuses on the years from 1939 to 1953 when Rockwell called Arlington, Vermont, his home.  After he left the social swirl of New Rochelle, New York, Rockwell described moving to pastoral Vermont as having "fallen into Utopia." The peaceful enclave of Arlington offered Rockwell a simpler, quieter life and the comfort and connection of a community of artists and writers. This would set the stage for one of the most important and acclaimed periods in his career.

"Arlington is where Rockwell found his style and voice as maker of American icons. Rural life gave him the clarity to see both the heroic and humble in human nature," notes Museum Director Laurie Norton Moffatt. It was an era of rapid growth and tremendous world change, and Rockwell's art reassured the nation that cherished values would not disappear. The exhibition spans the urgencies of wartime and the energetic post-World War II years in a presentation of prominent artworks created by Norman Rockwell, Mead Schaeffer, John Atherton, George Hughes and Grandma Moses, a rural coterie of nationally regarded artists. Highlights of the exhibition include Rockwell's virtuoso quartet, the "Four Freedoms," painted 60 years ago, and some of his most enduring "Saturday Evening Post" covers, including the rarely seen "Breaking Home Ties," which has been recently restored and will be displayed publicly for the first time in almost 40 years.

Rockwell first came to Arlington when he was in his mid-forties and had already achieved success as an illustrator for the "Saturday Evening Post." He was one of a group of illustrators who found their way to the same locale, settled with their families, developed friendship, and turned the small town of Arlington into an outpost for the "Saturday Evening Post." "Because of this closeness and their common endeavors-artists are usually solitary creatures-their consistent interaction accelerated their artistic energy and provided a fertile environment for their work," notes Linda Pero, curator of Norman Rockwell Collections, who curated the exhibition with Stephanie Haboush Plunkett, associate director of exhibitions and programs. "And, though they all drew from the same pool of models from the town and were all contributors to the Post, they worked very differently from each other, both in style and subject," says Pero.

The exhibition explores both Rockwell's impact on the town and his development as an artist. During the 14 particularly productive years when Rockwell called Arlington his home, he produced many of the paintings for which he achieved lasting fame, including "Saying Grace," "The Gossips," "Christmas Homecoming," "Girl at Mirror," and "Willie Gillis." Using local residents as his models, Rockwell discovered a freshness and simplicity that inspired him to create the memorable images that portrayed the flavor of life and human stories in an American small town. The impact the region had on his work was considerable. Everyday lives became American myths, and Rockwell found the town and its people the perfect setting to inspire his work:  "Moving to Arlington had given my work a terrific boost... Now my pictures grew out of the world around me, the everyday life of my neighbors," said Rockwell in his autobiography, "My Adventures as an Illustrator." "It was like living in another world. A more honest one somehow."

"Any important study of Rockwell's career must encompass the work he did while in Arlington," says Plunkett. "Thanks to loans of art from the collections of corporations, museums and private lenders, we were able to include a number of significant Norman Rockwell paintings that never have been exhibited at the Museum. "The Kansas City Spirit" is a unique collaboration that John Atherton and Norman Rockwell painted together after the devastating 1951 Kansas flood. "The Boy Who Put the World On Wheels" is a beautifully rendered image that became part of an advertising campaign for Ford Motor Company's 50th Anniversary and "Happy Skiers on a Train" positions Vermont as a winter wonderland in the 1940s."

Included in the exhibition are a series of informal portraits of Rockwell taken by his associate, photographer Gene Pelham, and a fascinating collection of photographs of Rockwell, his family, his models and his artist-neighbors from the Vermont years. In 1953, Rockwell and his family moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and this period will be the focus of an exhibition the Museum has planned for the summer of 2004.

An opening reception for the exhibition will be held at the Museum on Saturday, June 14, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. A program at 6:30 p.m. will feature remarks by Stuart Murray, author of "Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms: Images that Inspire a Nation" and "Norman Rockwell at Home in Vermont: The Arlington Years, 1939 - 53." The event is free for Museum members, $15 for non-members. Public programs for Freedom: Norman Rockwell in Vermont are supported by U.S. Bank.


"America the Beautiful, Illustrated"

An exhibition of original paintings for the new book, "America the Beautiful," by award-winning illustrator Wendell Minor, will be on view at the Norman Rockwell Museum from June 14 to July 13, 2003. Minor's illustrations capture the spectacular scenic beauty of America in this stunning interpretation of Katharine Lee Bates' classic poem. Minor will be at the Museum on Saturday, July 5, at 1:00 p.m. to sign copies of "America the Beautiful" and to discuss his artistic approach and working methods.


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