NON-WHITE AMERICA IN NORMAN ROCKWELL’S PAINTINGS By JANE ALLEN PETRICK

NormanRockwell Little RockJane 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. Petrick 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.

InPlainSight

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 that, up until now, they seem to have been routinely overlooked.

For example, in her book, “Norman Rockwell’s People,” Susan E. Meyer catalogs 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.”

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.



Categories: American history, Arts, Book Review, Books

Tags: , , , , , ,

11 replies

  1. That museum would be a joy to visit. Have you been there?

    Like

    • Yes, we both were. It’s a great little museum and you get to see the originals of all of his works. I hadn’t realized they were so big. Many are on really huge canvases.

      There are many of his less “popular” paintings there too. He was quite an artist.

      Like

  2. I always loved Norman Rockwell’s work.
    Leslie

    Like

    • He was a brilliant artist. Probably far more than most people realize.

      Liked by 1 person

      • He captured a certain time in our history, also he was making a statement.
        Leslie

        Like

        • He made a LOT of statements but people weren’t really listening. So, for that matter, did Dr. Seuss. They were both very involved in integration, tolerance, anti-hate groups and were really interesting artists/writers. And Robert Frost had definitely attitude, too which is in his poems, but you have to read the small print to find it. I’m planning to be happy today.

          And Louisa Alcott and her mother are ardent women’s right activists. It infuriated Louisa that she got locked into the “children’s book writer.” Too much popularity can kill you, though this is not a problem I’ve ever had.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I love Norman Rockwell, but I did feel he portrayed a mostly white point of view. Now this work exposes his, here to fore, unincluded, works of “Americans of color.” I love him even more!

    Like

    • He was an ardent anti-racist. If you find a book that has the rest of his pictures — not just the Saturday Evening Post covers — and you really LOOK at them, you realize how much America missed. Anti-racism was his personal cause.

      Like

  4. Who can forget “The Saturday Evening Post”? Rockwell’s covers were the highlights.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They were brilliant, but I think he didn’t feel he’d come into his OWN art until after he left the Post and Life. When Garry interviewed him, he had a studio in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. I think it is now part of his museum. A really fine little museum, too.

      Like

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