There is something special about a fall vacation. It is a throw-back to when the children had to go back to school, so the vacation season was greatly compressed. However, since my wife Joyce retired, we have enjoyed a wonderful vacation each fall since. Last year, we went to Lubeck, Maine, and over into Canada to Campobello Island, the summer home for the President and Eleanor Roosevelt. This year, we chose to explore the Berkshires. Although I’ve been in Maine about a dozen years, I’ve never actually been to the Berkshires.
Today, we enjoyed the Norman Rockwell Museum. His paintings are so iconic of the mid-nineteenth century. Those who are part of the Baby Boomers probably remember seeing the Saturday Evening Post. It was a favorite at my house, although I was too young to have read it, the covers always stuck with me. Seeing his style of art makes me a bit nostalgic for the simpler times.
Oh yes, those times, when I was still just a kid, and I had few duties other than to play and explore the world around me. Norman Rockwell, captured that, as well. Naturally, not having studied art, I had missed some of what made his paintings so enjoyable by so many people: he captured expressions on people’s faces. This was missing from previous eras of portrait painting! The picture was always so formal and featured the person more expressionless. Compared to Rockwell paintings where expressions are so vivid and manifest a wide variety of moods, it’s obvious why Norman Rockwell was sought after. He captured the innocence of America. He showed us an America where childhood for most were filled with wonder and naivety. He showed us up-beat art at every turn.
While Rockwell also illustrated books, I believe it was his cover art for the Saturday Evening Post that truly boosted him into the winning spotlight over and over again. Rockwell captured the essence of humanity for a mostly white readership. But don’t hold him up as a racist, because he was not. He captured the little African-American girl who had to be escorted to her newly assigned school during integration in 1964. He also captured our ethnic diversity in a painting that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1961, which he called the Golden Rule. Rockwell’s own words, “I wanted to include people of every race, creed, and color, depict them with dignity and hope,” were an affirmation to his dedication to global peace and harmony.
He was a prolific illustrator and portrait painter. Just to see the walls lined with Saturday Evening Posts at the museum moved me. My family nor I did not know Norman Rockwell. I probably would not run in his same circles should he be alive today, but he brought art to the people in the Twentieth Century in a manner that still lives on past his own life and into the Twenty-First Century.