JANE ALLEN PETRICK’S NON-WHITE AMERICA IN NORMAN ROCKWELL’S PAINTINGS – Marilyn Armstrong

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. 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.

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.

THE AUTRY MUSEUM, PART 1 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

When I was out in LA, our friends took us to an amazing museum – The Autry Museum of the West.

It included artifacts of the real west of America’s past, as well as the movie and TV versions of that same history. In fact, the museum is named after the famous “Singing Cowboy” of the early television days, Gene Autry, also the former owner of the Los Angeles/California/ Anaheim Angels Major League Baseball team from 1961 to 1997.

Outside of the beautiful structure that houses the museum
Sculpture outside the museum of Gene Autry with his guitar and his horse, Champion.

I took so many photos, I’m going to divide them up into three separate posts. This one will be devoted to clothing – a fascinating aspect of history.

Woman’s two-piece outfit from around 1885
Indian woman’s outfit
What real cowboys wore.
Bodice and skirt from 1865-1885 worn by Elizabeth Bacon Custer, wife of George Armstrong Custer of Custer’s last stand fame
Stagecoach driver’s gloves
Annie Oakley movie costume based on a painting of Annie Oakley
Beautiful dress in a soda ad

DESIGN AT DISNEY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

On my recent trip out West, we went to Disneyland in Anaheim, CA for a day. I was struck by the beautiful design elements and artistic touches I saw all over the California Park. There were also many California Craftsman style pieces as well as Art Deco, often in the most mundane places.

Walt Disney with a map of the original Disneyland
The park is dotted with artistic plant arrangements and mini gardens
California Craftsman style fountain. Similar to Art Deco style.
Pseudo Frank Lloyd Wright style building, with his iconic stonework patterns
My favorite – a total art deco pretzel stand! Gorgeous!
Closeup of a colorful mosaic over a bench
A larger section of the mosaic over a bench

PURPLE HAZE! – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Tuesday: Purple Haze

Haze? Purple haze? In front of your eyes. Not rose-colored haze, right? Because that’s a whole different matter.

THE CURSED SCRIPT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom and I wrote a script for our audio theater group a few years ago about a serial killer – and it has nearly killed us. We have had numerous trials related to this script and have yet to finalize it or perform it.

We were supposed to perform it, in its original form, at an Audio Festival in Kansas City, Missouri. However, teenagers were performing there too so we were told that our content had to be ‘family friendly’, which apparently meant no serial killers. Guess what the piece the teenagers wrote and performed was about? You guessed it!

A serial killer!

Tom and me in 2016

The next snafu with this script came when we tried to record it, as we do with all our pieces. We take the actors’ track and add music and sound effects as necessary and put the finished recording up on our website.

The recording also gives the actors a chance to hear a fully produced version as the audience hears it. We usually all get together in our basement studio and read through the piece exactly as it will be performed.

Barbara Rosenblat recording in our studio

However, with this script, there were scheduling problems with the actors so we had to record it piecemeal – with one or two actors recording their individual parts with someone just feeding them cues. This is how they record voices for animated movies but not how we work.

The piece never fully came together as a dramatic play because the actors weren’t acting with each other as they would be on stage. Acting ‘against’ each other adds dimension and depth to each actor’s performance and to the scene as a whole.

Sande Sherr performing at our house

It also made it exponentially harder for Tom to edit together a cohesive piece from everyone’s multiple, solo takes. It took Tom six months to pull the individual performances together into a finished, albeit inferior, product.

Tom recording in our basement studio

A year later, the group finally revisited the audio version of the piece and decided that it needed to be shortened and rewritten in parts. At this point, Tom and I were pretty much ‘over’ this script and couldn’t see how to improve it.

But we mulled it over and suddenly a light bulb went off. We cut out a few scenes at the start, shortened a very long scene at the end, and toned down an over-the-top main character. Once we tweak some of the dialogue and create an interesting montage for the beginning of the play, we’ll be ready to present it to the group. Again.

First page of the cursed script

We have no idea whether we will ever perform this piece or whether we will just shelve it along with other not ready for prime time scripts we’ve written over the years.

Tom and I are so jaundiced about this script that we won’t be too upset if we end up scrapping it. After all, we’ve been through with this one, I think our attitude would be R.I.P. Some things are just not meant to be. But you never know.

CHAIN OF FOOLS – ARETHA FRANKLIN – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Chain

We always think of this song as “lovers” or at the least relationships. How about our whole country — a chain of fools.

As a nation, that’s what we are. A chain of fools.

From wherever we come — the left, right, or middle, we are all of us an endless chain of fools dancing to The Big Asshole’s rhythm. And he can’t even find the rhythm. Nor can he sing.

Maybe we should make it our national anthem. At least we could dig the beat.

WHY DID YOU TAKE THAT PICTURE? – Marilyn Armstrong

“Why did you take that picture?” I was startled. No one ever asked me before. Photographers usually know the answer and non-photographers don’t think to ask. It gave me pause to think about the arts and what they mean to us.

I remember when I was teaching tech writing to graduate students and someone asked me “How do you know what to write?”

I was flummoxed. How did I know what to write?

I just knew. I never thought about it. I sometimes had to struggle for finding the right organization for a document, but I never failed to know what had to be there.

This flower really is pink!

So I went home and asked Garry “How do you know what film to shoot or what script to write?” He looked at me like I had two heads, so I explained what had happened in class and how I realized I knew what to write because … I just knew. Apparently, it was the same for him. You see the story and you know what you need to do with it.

I realized if you needed to ask, you were probably in the wrong place.

To me, it’s obvious why a picture was taken: the photographer saw something: light, shadow, image, color. Something spoke to the photographer and said: “Shoot me.”

I don’t need a reason to take a picture, though I may have one. I don’t take pictures of churches for religious reasons. I like the architecture or how the light plays on the steeple or reflects in the windows.

A Junco and the Cardinal

If I think it will make an interesting composition, I’ll take pictures of my feet. I have taken pictures of my feet, with and without shoes.

 

You can’t explain art. You get it or not. It speaks to you or not. No amount of studying will make art comprehensible if you don’t have a fundamental sympathy for it.

I know I’m going against the current mantra that “If you try hard enough, you can learn anything.”

Maybe this is true for some stuff, but I don’t see how it can apply to the arts. Or sports. You need to be taught, but you also need some ability. I spent years trying to learn to ice skate and I got to the point where I didn’t look too bad … but I was never really good at any of it, not even the simplest things. I had years of training and it was a complete waste of time, effort, and money.

 

If you have no eye, no course will give you one. It would be like trying to cure color blindness. If you are tone-deaf, you won’t be a musician. No matter how many lessons you take or how many hours you practice. If you have no gift for putting words together, you will not be a writer.

Not everyone is equally talented, even within the arts … but anyone earning a living in the arts has some talent. Some natural gift.

It’s cruel to tell kids they can be whatever they want merely by working harder. It’s not true. We should try to find out what our kids are good at and encourage them to go in directions in which they have some chance of success. Not everyone has a talent for art … but everyone has a talent for something.

The challenge is determining what it is.