A traveling retrospective of his career American Chronicles The Art of Norman

A traveling retrospective of his career american

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A traveling retrospective of his career, “American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell,” has been pulling in crowds at every museum it has visited—most recently, over the springtime, at the Detroit Institute of Arts, in a city especially racked with longing for better days. “American Chronicles” just spent the summer at its home base, the Norman Rockwell Museum, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, which this year is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and the exhibition moves on to the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on November 14. Meanwhile, a second traveling retrospective, “Norman Rockwell: American Imagist,” is making the rounds under the auspices of the National Museum of American Illustration (which is in Newport, Rhode Island), and the Smithsonian Institution is planning yet another major Rockwell exhibition, for 2010, this one built around the private collections of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Then there is Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, a wonderful new book by Ron Schick (photos from which accompany this article) that lifts the curtain on Rockwell’s working methods, revealing how profoundly labor-intensive and thoughtfully imagined they were. From the mid- 1930s onward, Rockwell orchestrated elaborate photo shoots of his models in various poses and setups, resulting in images that, though they were meant only to be studies, are compelling in their own right. Next month, in conjunction with the book’s publication, the Rockwell Museum will unveil Projectnorman, a new section of its Web site (nrm.org) that will allow users to view the more than 18,000 photographs that Schick has sifted through, all newly digitized and catalogued according to their “parent” painting. Select Saying Grace, for example, and you’ll be able to see that Rockwell had considered including a little girl as well as a little boy; that he himself acted out the old woman’s solemn pose for his model’s benefit; that he had brought Horn & Hardart Automat tables and chairs into his studio for the occasion; that one of the two young toughs
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eyeballing the grace sayers was played by the artist’s eldest son, Jarvis; that Rockwell posed two chubby Maytag-repairman types as an alternate to the two young toughs; and that he ventured far afield from his New England studio for multiple reference photos of a dreary rail yard (in Rensselaer, New York) just to make sure he got the details at the very back of the painting right. In his own behind-the-scenes book from 1949, How I Make a Picture —Rockwell always referred to his works as “pictures,” like a movie director, rather than “illustrations” or “paintings”—he documented an exhaustive creative “system” in which photography was only the midpoint. First came brainstorming and a rough pencil sketch, then the casting of the models and the hiring of costumes and props, then the process of coaxing the right poses out of the models ( Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera is rife with priceless shots of the artist pulling
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