Carved, painted, designed. Ornate elegance. Chinese antique porcelain and a unicorn music box. Hopi Corn Maidens.
Jane Allen Petrick has written a wonderful book about Norman Rockwell, the artist and his work. It focuses on the “invisible people” in his painting, the non-white children and adults who are his legacy.
For many readers, this book will be an eye-opener — although anyone who visits the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts or takes a serious look at Rockwell’s body of work can see Norman Rockwell never portrayed a purely white America. This perception of Rockwell’s work is a gross injustice to a man for whom civil rights was a personal crusade.
This country’s non-white population were in Rockwell’s paintings even when he had to sneak them in by a side door,figuratively speaking. Black people, Native Americans and others are anything but missing. Rockwell was passionate about civil rights and integration. It was his life’s cause, near and dear to his heart. Yet somehow, the non-white peoples in his pictures have been overlooked, become invisible via selective vision. They remain unseen because white America does not want to see them, instead choosing to focus on a highly limited vision which fits their prejudices or preconceptions.
Ms. Pettrick tells the story of Rockwell’s journey, his battle to be allowed to paint his America. It is also the story of the children and adults who modeled for him. She sought out these people, talked to them. Heard and recorded their first-hand experiences with the artist.
This is a fascinating story. I loved it from first word to last. HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT is available on Kindle for just $3.49. It’s also available as a paperback.
From the Author
Whether we love his work or hate it, most of us think of Norman Rockwell as the poster child for an all-white America. I know I did. That is until the uncanny journey I share with you in this book began to unfold. Then I discovered a surprisingly different truth: Norman Rockwell was into multiculturalism long before the word was even invented.
Working from live models, the famous illustrator was slipping people of color (the term I use for the multi-ethnic group of Chinese and Lebanese, Navajos and African-Americans the artist portrayed) into his illustrations of America from the earliest days of his career. Those people of color are still in those illustrations. They never disappeared. But the reason we don’t know about them is because, up until now, they seem to have been routinely overlooked.
For example, in her book, “Norman Rockwell’s People,” Susan E. Meyer catalogues by name over one hundred and twenty Norman Rockwell models, including two dogs, Bozo and Spot. But not one model of color is named in the book.
Another case in point? “America, Illustrated,” an article written for The New York Times by Deborah Solomon, art critic and journalist In honor of (an) upcoming Independence Day, the entire July 1, 2010 edition of the paper was dedicated to “all things American.”
“America, Illustrated” pointed out that Norman Rockwell’s work was experiencing a resurgence among collectors and museum-goers. Why? Because the illustrator’s vision of America personified “all things American.” Rockwell’s work, according to the article, provided “harmony and freckles for tough times.” As Solomon put it, Norman Rockwell’s America symbolized “America before the fall.” This America was, apparently, all sweetness and light. Solomon simply asserts: “It is true that his (Rockwell’s) work does not acknowledge social hardships or injustice.”
The America illustrated by Norman Rockwell also, apparently, was all white. Seven full-color reproductions of Rockwell’s work augment the multi-page Times’ article. The featured illustration is “Spirit of America” (1929), a 9″ x 6″ blow-up of one of the artist’s more “Dudley Doright”-looking Boy Scouts. None of the illustrations chosen includes a person of color.
This is puzzling. As an art critic, Solomon surely was aware of Norman Rockwell’s civil rights paintings. The most famous of these works, “The Problem We All Live With,” portrays “the little black girl in the white dress” integrating a New Orleans school.
One hundred and seven New York Times readers commented on “America, Illustrated,” and most of them were not happy with the article. Many remarks cited Solomon’s failure to mention “The Problem We All Live With.” One reader bluntly quipped: “The reporter (Solomon) was asleep at the switch.” The other people in Norman Rockwell’s America, people of color, had been strangely overlooked, again.I have dedicated Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America to those “other people”: individuals who have been without name or face or voice for so long. And this book is dedicated to Norman Rockwell himself, the “hidden” Norman Rockwell, the man who conspired to put those “other people” into the picture in the first place.
This week, show us something careful — a photo taken with care, a person being careful, or a task or detail requiring care.
Across from the dam in the middle of town is a tile mosaic. It was there when we moved here, 15 years ago and no one we have asked knows when it was created. It’s quite lovely. It is precise. Obviously made thoughtfully, carefully.
It shows a scene of the town back when there were more horses and carriages than cars. Created with loving care.
And The Ladybug asks …
Write about your favorite painting. Why do you like it? What’s the story behind it, do you know? And why is it special to you?
I know that they are millions upon millions of great paintings in our world. Many live in museums, while others reside in the private homes of the wealthy. Let’s not forget the millions of piece of art created by unknown artists who may have never shown their work to anyone outside their family circle.
I am, therefore, going to limit the scope of this answer to paintings I’ve seen personally … and specifically, to paintings I have hanging on the wall of my home.
Back in the days when both Garry and I were working full-time and earning good money, we loved art galleries and art. We bought paintings, photographs and happily hung them on our walls. Of course, my own photographs also hang on my walls, but they hang with oil paintings by many almost famous painters.
In this collection, there is one painting I love best. I know it’s not my husband’s favorite, though he likes it well enough, but it is mine.
It’s a numbered lithograph of a watercolor by Leonard Bergman titled “Jerusalem” which captures a mood, the sunshine, colors, flowers. It is “my” Jerusalem, not necessarily real, but the sense memory of the years I spent there.
Is it a great painting? I think so. In any case, it’s the one I love.
There’s (just) one framed (used) copy available at a ridiculously low price ($25!) at Etsy. Only 325 prints were ever made.
Among the many things I collect, Native American fetishes are among my favorites. I have a lot of them and many are tiny and intricate. Which makes them difficult to photograph and that is why you haven’t really seen them thus far.
Today I tackled my largest fetishes, my Corn Maidens. I have four, each carved from a different material and by a different carver. And I added the bear because he seemed to want to be a part of the festivities.
Each piece is a work of art. The maidens are my favorites, but I also love my bears, eagles, bobcats, mountain lions and wolves. I would have even more, but I know I suffer from collection addiction. I had to go “cold turkey.”
All pictures were taken with my 60 mm f2.8 Olympus macro lens in natural light.
It isn’t just culture that divides us into classes. What we watch on television, see in the movies, and read also puts us into a category, often unfairly by people who don’t “get” why we like what we like.
I read a post about how dreadful — yet gripping — romance novels can be. The not-so-subtle insinuation is that anyone who reads them is probably not too bright. While it’s true that romance novels are the potato chips of the literary world (bet you can’t eat just one) that’s not the point.
As a former editor of the Doubleday Romance Library, I assure you that research showed readers of romance novels are better educated than most readers.
They read romance novels because they are pulp. These readers aren’t looking to be informed or improved, to have their world expanded, reading-level or awareness raised. They want a book they can pick up, read, put down, and forget. If life gets in the way, they can just never finish the story — without regret.
I read each 3-book volume, every month. Three romances: 2 modern with a Gothic sandwiched between. Every novel had the same plot, the same outcome. They sold gangbusters.
Regardless of what we, as writers, would prefer people enjoy, people don’t always read good books. I often avoid “good” books. I don’t want to go where that book would take me. I’m not stupid or lacking in culture. I just don’t want to read it. Don’t enjoy the subject matter. Don’t need to be further depressed by the ugly realities of life or history.
Good books can be too intense, too serious, or educational for this moment in time. Too close to reality. I read to be entertained. I’m not seeking enlightenment through literature. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I am no longer seeking enlightenment through literature. If I ain’t enlightened by now, I’m pretty sure it won’t happen in this lifetime.
The wondrous thing about the world of books is there are so many. Enough genres, themes, and styles for everyone. An infinity of literature. No matter what your taste — low-brow, high-brow, middle-brow, no-brow — there are thousands of books waiting for you. That’s good. I’d rather see someone reading a bad book than no book.
I’m not a culture snob. I think reading crappy novels is fine if you like them. Watching bad TV is fine too.
Snobs suck the fun out of reading. While I’m not a fan of romance novels, if you are, that’s okay with me. I love reading about vampires and witches. I’d be more than a hypocrite to act as if your taste is inferior to mine.
These days, I’m rarely in the mood for anything serious — except maybe a conversation. Tastes change over time. Life has been a very serious business for me. When I read, watch TV, or see a movie, I want to escape, Reality will still be there when I get back.
Finally, my favorite professor at university — a man I believe was profound and wise — was a big fan of Mickey Spillane. He said there was a much truth in those books. I believe for him, there was.
His paintings tell an all-too-familiar story. It’s our world, where the world is full of plenty yet countless millions struggle to survive even though they work full-time, sometimes more than full-time. Because America’s minimum wage is so low, no one can live on those earnings.
Jack Keough’s Work Series are paintings without faces. He says he doesn’t want this to be about one-dimensional or race issues. This is an issue that cuts across race, ethnicity, culture, education.
Says Keough “This is a ‘bottom of America’ issue. It’s about the minimum wage and making it possible for working people to support themselves and a family.” It affects every working man and woman in this richest country in the world.
He feels he’s a prime example of what happens. His business went under. 2008 was a bad year for a lot of people.
He figured out what working for a full year at $9/hour minimum wage would look like: A full year of hard labor would yield just over $18,700. Before taxes. After taxes and insurance deductions, take home would come to just over $9,70. Not enough to house and feed a single man, much less a family.
Jack Keough’s paintings ask, “Can anybody look at those numbers and tell me that’s fair?”
The 56-year-old Keough talks — and paints — about the harsh realities of life for working people. College graduate and father of two grown children, he’s a guy who saw his graphic design business which he built and grew for 24 years, go belly up when the economy tanked in 2008.
Scrabbling to survive in a hard economy, Jack paints while holding down 4 jobs — just to make ends meet.
His “Work Series” makes it clear Jack Keough isn’t going to waste time ranting on social media. He’s on a mission, using art to stimulate discussion about the minimum wage. About raising it so that it will be enough to live on.
He has a quest. Jack Keough hopes people will listen — and then work to make change happen.
Jack Keough’s paintings do a lot of talking.
ONE DAY, ONE MAN, ONE SHOW
You can see Jack Keough’s work at a one day, one man show on Labor Day, Monday, September 7, 2015. At Boston City Hall Plaza. Bring the family and your friends.