Norman Rockwell is one of America’s most treasured artists of the twentieth century. His work, now on display at Brigham Young University’s Museum of Art in the “American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell” exhibit, is at once nostalgic, commercial and questioning of the status quo.
Rockwell’s art transcends generations and captures American life in a different, simpler time. There is something nostalgic and relatable in all of his work; in the more whimsical variety, it’s a sense of familiarity and childlike wonder. In his political work, there is an air of quiet importance. The expressions he gives his subjects all seem to very clearly convey an emotion, whether it’s elation, suspicion or surprise.
Rockwell represented a wholesome and nuanced image of the American family in a way that no one else had. His work is similar in style, but features a wide variety of subjects. Prolific and mainstream, Rockwell produced artwork for the Boy Scouts of America, advertisements for Kellogg’s and Coca-Cola, character portraits of big-budget movies like John Wayne classic “Stagecoach,” paintings of U.S. Presidents, and the covers of many magazines including Popular Science, Ladies’ Home Journal and The Saturday Evening Post, for which he did the cover illustrations for almost five decades. His work mainly focused on the daily activities of average Americans, which often included children, circus performers, and police.
Outside of his more lighthearted work, Rockwell was also a fervent social activist. Some of Rockwell’s most prominent social activism pieces are on display in the MOA. An example is the war bond posters he made after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 address, which stated the president’s hope for a post-war America built on four basic human rights: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Rockwell humanized these ideals by creating posters demonstrating Americans enjoying each of these types of freedom. These paintings exemplified propaganda at its best.
Also featured is an extended display of “Murder in Mississippi,” a painting based on the murder of three civil-rights workers by Ku Klux Klansmen with the help of a deputy Sherriff in 1964 Philadelphia, Miss. The exhibit follows Rockwell’s process, going through all of the research and work he put in to create the emotionally moving painting.
Throughout the twentieth century, Norman Rockwell brought a country of people together. Whether it was through relatable joy and whimsy, or deep political statements, he provided a mirror for his audience to look into and learn more about themselves and the world around them. His style is instantly recognizable, filled with attention to detail, big expressions, light satire and entertaining situations. This exhibit is a must see for lovers of modern art and America alike. It’s very exciting to have this iconic artist’s work featured here in Utah valley.
The exhibit runs through February 13, 2016. Reserve tickets at rockwell.byu.edu.