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.

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.

SOAP MAKING 101 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My future daughter-in-law, Katie, has started a fun new hobby. Soap making. She’s always been artistic and soap making is another creative outlet for her. Soap making is creative aromatically as well as visually, so it provides multiple levels of artistry.

Katie in her kitchen getting ready to make soap

Katie makes beautiful soaps, whimsical soaps and some simple soaps that smell heavenly. She can play with design and smells to make an infinite variety of shapes, patterns and odors.

Katie is very industrious and motivated and she is trying to turn her hobby into a small business. She got herself on Etsy, the major craft site online. She has also done some craft shows and designed and printed business cards.

Her business is called The Phoenix Rising Shop because the symbolism of the phoenix rising from the ashes has tremendous meaning for her.

Another one of Katie’s charming designs

She also came up with a clever marketing idea – the soap making party. She offers to come to your house and make batches of soap in your kitchen with you and you and up to twelve friends. It becomes a social gathering with a theme.

Katie did a test party at her home and it was great! Everyone had lots of fun and learned a lot.

To make soap, there is a very specific recipe that involves the mixing of different oils together at the right temperature. Everything has to be precisely measured out, mixed through and temperature tested. A lye mixture is added to the oils.

This is a recipe where the order in which you add ingredients is as important as what you add. At one point, the mixture thickens as you mix it. Very cool to watch.

Testing the temperature with an infrared thermometer

Adding scent and color is the fun part. There are a huge variety of scents,  from watermelon, cherry, lime, vanilla, ocean breeze, and pine. You can also mix a variety of scents to create your own, such as watermelon cherry, or white tea and ginger.

The quantity of scent you put in is also important. Too much and it is cloying. Too little and you can’t smell anything.

Party guests testing scents

There’s a whole artist’s palette of colors. How you add the colors can determine the design or pattern on the soap. You can also use a knife to swirl colors together to form different designs.

We did a simple pattern layering ribbons of different colors into the soap mold. We also chose the basic rectangular mold that makes bars of soap as opposed to fancier molds in any shape you could imagine – flowers, seashells, geometric shapes, whatever.

The soap has to set 24 hours in the mold before it can be cut into bars. Then it has to cure for four weeks before it can be used. So Katie has set up shelves in the basement to hold the finished soaps and the ones waiting for their due date.

Check out The Phoenix Rising Shop on Etsy to see the wide range of soaps Katie has created. Soaps are a wonderful Xmas gift! And she ships anywhere!

Discarded and oddly shaped chunks of soaps

KISMET OR KARMA? – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My husband, Tom and I are part of an audio theater group called “Voicescapes Audio Theater.” This is our main hobby and our passion.

Tom and I write original short scripts (eight to twenty-five minutes) for our group, both comedies, and dramas. Tom also directs, edits, and handles all the technical aspects of our audio productions, such as sound effects, microphones, sound equipment, recording, etc. Tom is also now doing online marketing for us on Facebook and Instagram. He has created and manages our website, https://www.voicescapesaudiotheater.com.

You can go to our website and listen to all of our pieces in the podcast section. You can also watch a video of an eight-minute piece, “Kidnapping 101” to get a sense of what it’s like to watch us perform live. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EckvRFlDOFs

Tom acting in “Kidnapping 101”

As I mentioned above, we also do live performances. This is not a simple operation. We need to pack tons of audio equipment into our SUV. We have to use a ramp to get the heaviest, bulkiest piece into the car. Then we have to unload everything and hook it up at the venue. The set-up takes from two to three hours. After our one to one and a half hour performance, we have to break everything down and reload the car. Then we get to unload again when we get home. It’s quite an undertaking. A true labor of love.

Tom loading our largest piece of equipment into the car

Our shows are a compilation of our short pieces, usually with a mix of comedies and dramas. We get a great response whenever we perform. People love our shows and praise our writing, acting, and overall productions. Our shows are nothing like the overdone, dated radio dramas from the old days of radio. They are more like sophisticated, clever, modern short plays.

We haven’t been able to reach large audiences yet. One problem is that people don’t really understand what audio theater is. It’s really just a form of theater – with actors on a stage performing a dramatic piece. The actors are just standing behind music stands, reading from their scripts as they act. They are accompanied by sound effects and music, which make it a full, dramatic performance.

Three actors performing. The guy in the back is doing sound effects

Our other problem is that we don’t have the money to do adequate marketing, in general, or for individual performances. So, among other venues, we have been performing at libraries in Westchester, NY for two reasons. First, they do their own marketing and get their own audiences (usually 20-40 people). Secondly, they pay us! Not much but it more than covers our costs.

Sande in character

So we performed at a beautiful library in Mt. Kisco, NY a few weeks ago. One of our group members, Sande, invited eight friends to our performance. They arrived and we chatted with them while we waited for the rest of the audience from the library. Five minutes before the show. No one. Five minutes after we were scheduled to perform. No one. There are still only Sande’s eight friends in the audience.

Part of our Mt. Kisco performance

The library person who booked us apologized and admitted that they have trouble getting people to show up to any of their events. Now she tells us! At least their check cleared!

We went ahead with the performance anyway. The show must go on! It was demoralizing to have literally no one from the library or the town show up. But we gave it our all. It turns out that those eight people were an awesome, enthusiastic audience! In one piece, three women were laughing so hard they were crying. That is very gratifying to a performer! So it turned out to be a positive experience for everyone.

Another group of actors performing at Mt/ Kisco

Skip ahead a week. One of the women who was laughing uproariously was so impressed with us she told her friend about us. Her friend works at a New York Community Arts Council. That group has two theaters and has regular shows that draw large audiences.

They were excited to hear about us and immediately booked us for a show for next year in their 60 seat theater. They said they expected to fill the theater with no trouble. In addition, we’re getting paid more than twice what we get from the libraries pay us!

Sande and Tom acting up a storm!

So maybe we were meant to be in Mt. Kisco, despite the lack of audience. Our private show for Sande’s friends produced a wonderful and totally unforeseen result. A big positive for our group rose from the ashes of a less than successful show.

Kismet or Karma? Either way, we’ll take it!

GOOD NEWS STARTS WITH A BALL AND A BAT

Where have all “the positive” stories gone? Didn’t there used to be “positive stories” on the news?

Actually, the answer to that is “not really.” Even in the better-than-now old days, when the world was a little bit less insane, and calamities weren’t a daily (hourly?) event, news media focused their efforts on evil-doers.

Drugs. Murder. Fire. Car crashes. Plane crashes. Derailment. Financial disasters. Trials. Protests. Scandal. More scandal.

Garry worked in the news from 1962 until he retired in 2001. He didn’t do a lot of “positive” stories. He did a lot of murders, trials, drugs, fires, and blizzards. The theory of news stations is that death and destruction sells best. If you don’t have death and destruction, scandal and political protests can take up the slack. If, by some miracle, you run out of scandal … well … maybe you can add a feature about glorious autumn leaves or the new, improved zoo. Maybe there’s a hero somewhere getting an award.

That’s not just the way it is. That is the way it was and has been, as long as there has been “news.”


News isn’t good. It should be called “bad news” since it pretty much always is. Bad, that is.

They used to say “if it bleeds, it leads.” Carnage makes news sell better. If you can scare people to death, your ratings are sure to go up. We complain about the awful things going on politically and climatically, but news ratings are way up. The worse things get, the higher ratings go. Even people — like us — who used to avoid watching news find we watch at least a piece of it every night because we have to at least keep up with change.

The only other thing that sells news as well as murder is extremely bad weather. If, by some extraordinary luck, you get terrible weather that also results in deaths, bet your ass every news channel will be on it like ticks on a dog.

It is interesting to me that the same people who complain about how we don’t have any “good news” on the news, also complain that sports are a waste of time. Because essentially, sports are the good news portion of the news.

The point of sports is to have something entertaining and involving which doesn’t include politics, ranting commentaries, and piles of bodies. For example, you can get fully engrossed in baseball for decades or your whole life. The most tragedy you are likely to experience is a bad shoulder injury by a winning pitcher, a losing home team, or maybe a scandal. Even the scandals rarely involve death or destruction.

I have learned to enjoy sports. I don’t come from a sporting family, though I know back in the very old days, we listened to the Dodgers on the radio and rooted for them. We weren’t fanatics, but we were interested. For the past couple of years, the Red Sox and the Patriots have brought smiles to our faces even when the rest of the world was in a state of siege.

Say what you want about “overpaid athletes.” You try throwing a fastball 90 feet to get the batter out at the plate. It may be a game, but it isn’t an easy game. I bet you couldn’t play it no matter how much money they offered you. They pay these guys a lot of money the same way and for the same reasons we pay actors, singers, dancers, and other performers a lot of money. Entertainment matters. Why do you feel a great pitcher is less deserving of being well-paid than a movie or television star? You mean … pretending to be a detective on TV is so much more validating than playing quarterback on a football team? Because being a fake detective is inherently more enriching than throwing a ball?

We pay entertainers — including athletes — a lot of money because they do things we can’t do and which we enjoy seeing. Because we need something in our world that is interesting, involving, and fun. A place in our universe where we can go and just enjoy it. Whatever it is.

This doesn’t mean that we aren’t interested in the arts. Or books, movies, music, television and other events humans enjoy when they aren’t fully absorbed in horrors of politics and war. But sports is more than just entertainment. It gives us something to root for. These days, we need that. I need that. I absolutely need something I can be “for” which isn’t life and death.

Sports has been our saving grace of the past few years as what used to be reality turned surreal — and sometimes became meaningless.

The next time you watch the news, consider that there is good news. It’s sports.

ORNATE ELEGANCE

Carved, painted, designed. Ornate elegance. Chinese antique porcelain and a unicorn music box. Hopi Corn Maidens.

NON-WHITE AMERICA IN NORMAN ROCKWELL’S PAINTINGS – 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. 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 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.