HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT – NON-WHITE AMERICA IN NORMAN ROCKWELL’S PAINTINGS

HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT: THE OTHER PEOPLE IN NORMAN ROCKWELL’S PAINTINGS By Jane Allen Petrick

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.

NormanRockwell Little Rock

This country’s non-white population were in Rockwell’s paintings even when he had to sneak them in by a side door. 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.

Rockwell was one of Garry’s first interviews after he started working in Boston and he remembered how Rockwell questioned him about how he was doing and how he was being treated. It wasn’t just casual questions, either. He sincerely meant it.

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 beginning to end. HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT is available on Kindle for just $2.99 and $2.95 in 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.

Jane Allen Petrick


Categories: #American-history, #GarryArmstrong, Arts, Book Review

Tags: , , , , , ,

18 replies

  1. Amazing. I saw this same news item about a guy who found a Rockwell hidden behind a wall panel.
    https://www.cbsnews.com/news/rockwell-original-found-behind-wall/
    Can you imagine?

    Like

  2. Is this a repeat? I read the book a few years ago and wrote a review on my blog. Looking up the review the first thing I see is a link back to your blog! lol. Anyway, it was a great book, and I really like seeing it through the eyes of a black woman – it has much more meaning that way than if a white male had written the book. I have a much better appreciation of Norman Rockwell after reading. Very cool that he was one of Garry’s first interviews and that he came across as a caring man.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is one of those people who never got any PR on her book except a few bloggers like me, so sometimes I dig through reviews for books no one heard of but which I think deserve attention. I run the review again. I know it’s not going to produce a best-seller, but it sells a few books. Not everyone read the original review. My book sells a copy once in a while too for no obvious reason. The last one in Japan. Japan? Okay, then. Before that, I sold a couple in Indonesia. Indonesia?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yep, understand, just took me by surprise a little when I looked up my post and saw a link to your blog on it. Yeah, give the small authors all of the boosts you want – I think this is one that deserves a little push…
        It is odd that people around the world pic things up, but then, you have blog readers from all over, so, why not?

        Like

        • It’s just always a surprise when I get a notice from Amazon that (gasp!) I sold a book or two and so often someplace where I wouldn’t think my book would be interesting.

          This book in particular was a well-written little book pointing out what really should have been obvious to anyone who chose to LOOK at his work. She got zero promotions, zero PR. I found the book almost by accident and reviewed it. So if every year or maybe a little less, I give it a gentle push, it’s always nice to get a couple of sales and remember “Hey, I wrote a book. And someone is reading it!”

          Liked by 1 person

    • Trent, I was bowled over when I received the Rockwell interview assignment. So excited. Turns out several veteran reporters snubbed the job – feeling it was just “soft journalism..with an old geezer”. They were so ignorant and had no jibes when I returned with the interview and details of how wonderful my “down” time was with Norman Rockwell .

      Liked by 1 person

  3. ๐Ÿ‘โœ๏ธ๐Ÿ“ท๐ŸŒน๐Ÿ‘‹

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I bought a copy, Marilyn! And, yes, Garry, I would love to read more about that interview!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ll never forget my interview with Norman Rockwell.
    I, initially, was mesmerized just sitting and “chatting” with the justly labelled icon. It occurred to me, at some point, that Mr. Rockwell was asking me as many questions about my professional and social life as I was asking him about his career and life.
    Norman Rockwell did not sit for many interviews, certainly not with young TV news reporters.
    I felt a great deal of interest and compassion from Rockwell. The scheduled 20 minute interview lasted close to an HOUR with Norman Rockwell’s give and take.
    We parted with a strong handshake, Rockwell placing his hands on my shoulders and gently asking me –“Don’t be a stranger to this old man”. Unfortunately, there never was another visit.
    I still have a clear sense memory of Norman Rockwell, his eyes steadily locked on me and
    giving full weight to my questions.

    Liked by 2 people

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