For years, Rockwell has been dismissed as kitschy and cliched. But lately, critics and collectors alike have reconsidered his work. Directors George Lucas and Steven Spielberg will contribute their Rockwell pieces to a Smithsonian exhibit next year, and one Rockwell painting recently sold for $15 million. Rockwell's rosy America and literalist technique might polarize opinions, but there's no denying the permanence and influence of his vision. And at least now, homage can be paid to the photographers who made that vision a reality.
A note by NPR correspondent Jacki Lyden:
There are stories — and then there are stories. To visit Stockbridge, Mass., is to see Norman Rockwell's subjects walking around. You look at a face and think, "Could it be?" And upon occasion, it is, indeed. Rockwell had so many of his townsmen photographed for his paintings that the Town Hall is setting up an exhibit, asking people to identify themselves. The Town Hall is in the old school in which Rockwell, with the principal's help, photographed so many children. That would be a far more difficult thing to do today.
Also, the rediscovery of the very fact that Rockwell used photography so precisely is fascinating — and we owe Ron Schick and the Norman Rockwell Museum for their work. Clemens Kalischer, a world-renowned photographer, did not want to be identified as a Rockwell photographer, and shouldn't be. Though the two were neighbors, they had little in common by way of aesthetics.
Life is not a photograph or a painting, though, and it tends to throw people together who might not otherwise have interacted. I like the idea of seeing Rockwell in multiple ways and do not, myself, think that finished works need to do more than speak for themselves. Clearly, Rockwell speaks for a wide swath of Americans. That he himself suffered an ill wife; an obsessive habit of seeing and working; a creation, in his mind, of some kind of American sanctuary others wished to share — this all speaks to the complicated machinations of art: It is a way of remaking a world. Do check out the digitized photographic archive when the Norman Rockwell Museum puts it online at the end of year, and catch the show in Stockbridge. And don't forget to stop in at Clemens Kalischer's Image Gallery, right on Main Street
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