"Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera"
Ron Schick, curator
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
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.