An on-line news service devoted to museums and exhibitions in New York City and vicinity. John Hammond, Editor Emeritus • Jonathan Slaff, Publisher

The Museum Gazetteer


"Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera"
Ron Schick, curator
Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn
Nov. 19, 2010 – April 10, 2011

For over half a century, Norman Rockwell chronicled American life with pictures that seemed to spring from the heartland. In fact, the pictures he created appear so natural and spontaneous it's hard to believe they were carefully set up and photographed by Rockwell and his assistants, often in his studio.

Brooklyn Museum's exhibit "Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera," explores the artist not as a painter or illustrator, but as a photographer who carefully set up his scenes much as a film director must work. Curator Ron Schick has displayed these study photographs, as well as drawings and tear sheets, alongside the actual pictures to give the viewer a vivid picture of how the artist worked.

Collaborating with photographers such as Bill Scovill and Gene Pelham, Rockwell, much like a film director, carefully selected props, locations and models. However, unlike film directors, Rockwell, after discovering that professional models inhibited his naturalistic style, turned to friends and neighbors to create his detailed study photographs. Something of an actor himself, Rockwell often encouraged his models, who were frequently children, by jumping humorously into the scene.

Early in his career, Rockwell most probably would have liked to be a painter in the style of the great innovators, perhaps a Van Gogh or a Picasso. But he soon realized his talents lay elsewhere. Rockwell excelled at illustration, as can be easily seen in work for The Saturday Evening Post and later Look magazine.

Even for those not particularly interested in exactly how the artist worked, this exhibit is memorable for the breadth of the collection. Here one finds many Rockwell favorites: Tatoo Artist, Soda Jerk, Day in the Life of a Little Boy, Dewey or Truman (Breakfast Table Family Argument).

Although Rockwell is known for his portrayal of the lighter, more benevolent side of America, he was certainly not afraid to tackle the major issues of his time. Blood Brothers and The Problem We All Live With illustrate the Civil Rights Movement.
Thanksgiving: Girl Praying is a graphic reminder that some Americans have less than others to be thankful for.

Faced with the impossibility of showing a black man in anything but a servile position, in Boy in a Dining Car, the artist nevertheless gave his black waiter great dignity, authority and kindliness. Sometimes Rockwell's personal values came into conflict with those of his employers at the magazine. The pictures had to find a different home.

Rockwell's reputation, like that of many artists, has had its ups and downs. But whether one goes to this exhibit as a fan or a skeptic, one will certainly come away with a greater respect for Rockwell's technique and integrity.