The juniors in English 3 had the pleasure of being introduced, some for the first time, to the work of the amazingly talented and influential artist Norman Rockwell. My class was assigned to write a creative story, a backstory, or prequel to a Rockwell painting of our choice. Considering he created over 4,000 paintings during his life, it was a little hard to pick just one masterpiece.
On Thursday, March 29, the curator of the Norman Rockwell Museum, Tom Daly, visited the CIC to shed more light on the start of Rockwell’s career, his inspirations, and his family. I was impressed by how present Rockwell’s work was and still is in American culture. He was revolutionary in his time, and completely unafraid of possible backlash. His work continues to inspire.
Norman Rockwell was an outcast in his childhood. He was in the shadow of his older brother constantly, and he was alone for the majority of his childhood. However, within the loneliness, he found constant comfort in his passion of painting.
By his late 20s, Rockwell was already being published weekly in a magazine called The Saturday Evening Post, where his art was featured on the cover week after week. Even at such a young age, his art was skillful and his passion could be felt when viewing his creations.
For over thirty years, Rockwell illustrated for that magazine, and its editors let him paint whatever he wanted. Rockwell used that freedom to send the messages he wanted to spread. During the Second World War, for instance, Rockwell felt the need to enlighten readers about what was happening all around the world.
He showed the importance of inclusivity and equality in one his most popular series, the “Four Freedoms.” All masterfully displayed these values, which Rockwell believed should be enjoyed by every person and family.
His “Freedom of Worship” is absolutely breathtaking. This painting depicts the profiles of people of varying ages, races, and religions, all standing side by side, praying to their own higher power. Their faces are all looking away from the viewer, but one feels as if they’re also peacefully coexisting.
Maybe the most well-known of the series is “Freedom from Want,” which is still seen often today. It was featured in the TV show Modern Family, used by the singer and songwriter Lady Gaga, and an edited version is being used to promote the upcoming Deadpool 2. This painting captures the essence of Rockwell’s painting style. He often constructed his portraits like candid photos. In this painting, the family is captured mid-Thanksgiving dinner, their smiling faces all naturally posed as they sit along their long dining table.
“Freedom of Speech” depicts a man dressed drastically differently from all of the business-type people in the courtroom. He is obviously a working man, judging by his rough hands and his literal blue collar, which stands out among the surrounding white collared men. Still, he is unafraid to voice his opinions in court. Little details like the collar color and the inclusion of a women in the background of the courtroom, a place where women were not yet allowed to be attendees, showed Rockwell’s opinions without forcing them on the viewer.
His “Freedom from Fear” is heartwarming to say the least. The very serious themes of the previous paintings take a slightly lighter turn in this one, as it simply depicts a mom and dad tucking their two children into bed. However, there is a deeper meaning. There is a warm feeling of family radiating from this painting, which shows how talented Rockwell was in channeling feelings into his art. The parents appear to be happy, but if you take a closer look, one can see the headline of the newspaper in the father’s hand: “Bombings… Horror.” The presence of fear is seen within the parents, but the they are granting their children the freedom from fear. The guardian angel portrait above the bed cements that protective message.
Rockwell’s paintings continue to inspire tolerance and inclusion, and they still take my breath away every time I see one. The realism is incredible, and they tear at my conscience every time I imagine what inspired each painting. The beautiful, awe-inspiring, and absolutely invaluable paintings of Norman Rockwell are definitely worth all the appreciation we can give them.