Rockwell exhibit a reflection of America’s past
March 3, 2012
At a glance …
• The Museum of Northwest Colorado is preparing to display all 323 front-page tear sheets featuring the work of Norman Rockwell for The Saturday Evening Post.
• The exhibit will run from May 14 through Sept. 28 and will be free to the public.
• Bringing the exhibit to Craig will cost about $28,000, the most the museum has ever paid for a single exhibit.
• Museum officials are expecting an enthusiastic reception, both from residents and out-of-area visitors.
“His covers really appealed to people. … Even if you couldn’t read, you were interested in them.”
— Mary Karen Solomon, chairwoman of the arts and science departments at Colorado Northwestern Community College’s Craig campus, about Norman Rockwell’s art for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post
Mary Karen Solomon remembers the attraction The Saturday Evening Post held for her as a child.
It wasn't the articles that appealed to Solomon, now 60, the chairwoman of the arts and science departments at Colorado Northwestern Community College's Craig campus.
She was a young girl then, she said.
Instead, it was the magazine's cover art by Norman Rockwell that captured her attention.
The artwork had a way of hooking your gaze, she said.
In a few deft strokes, Rockwell captured a moment that could have happened anywhere in small-town America and that anyone of any age could understand.
"His covers really appealed to people," she said. "… Even if you couldn't read, you were interested in them."
For nearly 50 years Rockwell illustrated more than 300 covers for the Post, making his name nearly synonymous with the popular publication.
His work helped define a country at some of its brightest and darkest hours.
Rockwell's paintings portrayed "who we are as a nation … who we are as a people," said Mary Pat Dunn, registrar at the Museum of Northwest Colorado.
Soon, Rockwell's art will find a temporary home in Northwest Colorado.
From May 14 through Sept. 28, the museum will display original tear sheets from all 323 covers Rockwell illustrated for the magazine.
The exhibit will be free and open to the public.
The museum paid about $28,000 for the exhibit, making it the most expensive the museum has ever offered, Dunn said.
The exhibit will come at no expense to Moffat County. Instead, the museum is using mineral lease funds to cover the cost.
The seed for the project was planted a decade ago when the museum displayed a collection of 80 Rockwell pencil illustrations.
The pencil illustration exhibit was displayed in July, August and September 2002, and museum attendance soared by more than 30 percent, Dunn wrote in an email.
Dunn, who has been with the museum for 15 years, is expecting an even bigger reception this year, as well as travelers from out-of-the area.
If the exhibit draws as many viewers as she hopes it will, it could have an impact beyond the museum.
According to data collected by the Moffat County Tourism Association, many Moffat County visitors belong to the Baby Boomer generation, MCTA Director Melody Villard said.
"I think the nostalgic quality (of Rockwell's work) would be something that would stop somebody who's just traveling through," she said. "… But I also think it will be a draw from other areas."
The exhibit's arrival is already generating buzz in Craig, Museum Director Dan Davidson said.
Dunn has heard the same.
"It just tells you how much he still speaks to people," she said.
Art of a nation
Davidson flipped through a book of Rockwell's work Friday morning at the museum, stopping at pictures that caught
On one was a painting showing a group of middle-aged men clustered around a young girl who sits with her arms crossed in an attitude of resolution.
On the glass above the door in the corner are printed the words "jury room."
It doesn't take long for the casual observer to realize what Rockwell is trying to convey in his paintings, Davidson said.
"Each one tells a story," he said.
Rockwell's story began in 1894 with his birth in New York City. By age 14 he was a newly enrolled student at The New York School of Art.
Two years later, he would leave high school to study first at The National Academy of Design, then at The Art Students League, according to the Norman Rockwell Museum website.
His early career included a term as art director for Boys' Life, the Boy Scouts of America's official publication, and later as an artist for magazines including Country Gentleman, Literary Digest and Life, according to the website.
Rockwell made his debut on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1916 at 22 years old, and his career with the magazine would span the next 47 years.
Many of his works focused on daily life in small-town America, the kind of life Audrey Danner remembered from her childhood in the midsized town of Arkansas City, Kansas.
Rockwell's cover illustrations on The Saturday Evening Post depicted "what I saw in everyday life," said Danner, 59, a Moffat County Commissioner.
She said she's pleased the museum is bringing the exhibit to Craig.
"I believe it will be an exhibit that will make many of us smile," she said.
Rockwell's art also evokes memories for Craig resident Jean Muhme, 77.
His paintings from World War II remind her of her childhood during the war, when the family gathered around the radio on their ranch near Clark "just listening, battle by battle," she said.
His portrayals of the small trials and amusements of a country schoolhouse brought back recollections of the school she attended near Clark, which at most enrolled only 18 students at one time,
"Rockwell, he added so much humor to everything," she said, and his paintings were "so lifelike."
Dunn believes Rockwell was more than an illustrator.
He was a storyteller who made a visual record of life in his time, from the Great Depression to World War II, and into the Civil Rights era, she said.
Still, Rockwell's work doesn't belong solely to a bygone age.
His universal themes appeal to both old and young.
"It's timeless," Dunn said.
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