He’s been called “The People’s Painter” and “The Dickens of the Paintbrush.” For decades, his illustrations celebrating the hope and humor of the American Experience found its way into millions of homes on the covers of the Saturday Evening Post and other popular publications.
Even his name — “Rockwell” — is part of the American lexicon. A moment or image that captures a quaint moment of everyday life is often called “Rockwellian.” If Norman Rockwell is not America’s most famous artist, he’s in the discussion.
His lifework is being celebrated at Brigham Young University’s Museum of Art in “American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell.” The free exhibition features more than 50 of the artist’s original paintings — including many of his most familiar pieces such as “No Swimming” and the self-deprecating “Triple Self-Portrait.”
All 323 of the illustrator’s Saturday Evening Post covers, crafted from 1916 to 1963, are also displayed.
“Norman Rockwell was a master storyteller,” said museum spokeswoman Kylie Brooks. “Each of his images tells an entire story.”
The exhibition offers a well-rounded portrait of Norman Rockwell (1874-1978) and his work. Beyond his unmatched ability to find dignity and warmth in daily living, the artist also utilized his tools to chronicle injustice and unrest found in the United States and beyond.
Much of “American Chronicles” tells the story of an artist driven by social consciousness.
“The Problem We All Live With” is perhaps the anchor piece of the exhibition. Painted in 1963, it depicts a little African-American girl walking to her newly desegregated school in New Orleans. It’s not an easy painting to view. The child walks eyes forward and with school supplies in hand. She is flanked by a towering escort of U.S. Marshalls. A smashed tomato and a racial slur stain the wall she passes beside.
The real-life subject of the painting, Ruby Bridges, opened the exhibition at BYU on Oct. 19 with a retelling of her personal experiences that prompted the painting.
“We wanted to show a side of Rockwell that some might not know about him,” said Kylie Brooks.
Other highlights include the artist’s liberty-promoting war bond posters. Another section is dedicated to his creative process in painting perhaps his most controversial work, the stark “Murder in Mississippi.”
“American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell” is on display in the museum’s basement gallery. It is prefaced by a short film about the artist’s life created by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
“It’s an extremely moving exhibition — poignantly capturing both the joys and sorrows of our history,” said curator Janalee Emmer.
Free tickets are required to visit the exhibition. They can be reserved at moa.byu.edu. The BYU Museum of Art is located northwest side of the Church-owned school’s Provo, Utah, campus.
[email protected] @JNSwensen