Norman Rockwell Museum Turns Back Time
Rockwell naps on the sofa in his studio in 1960; photo by Bill Scovill. Licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL.
The Norman Rockwell Museum has turned the clock back to 1960. “It was a very significant moment in Norman Rockwell’s life,” says Corry Kanzenberg, the musuem’s curator/archival collections, who has overseen the reinstallation of Rockwell’s studio on the museum’s lush park-like 36-acre campus in Stockbridge, MA. “His second wife, Mary, had just died and he was increasingly interested in social change.” Called A Day in the Life: Norman Rockwell’s Stockbridge Studio, the new exhibit opens May 2. For the past two decades, visitors have seen Rockwell’s studio (which was moved from its nearby South Street location on two flatbed trucks) exactly as it was when he died in 1978. To celebrate the museum’s 40th anniversary, it was decided to reinvigorate the studio tour by capturing a specific moment in time when Rockwell was in the midst of working on Golden Rule, a pivotal work that ushered in the era when his paintings were increasingly about civil rights and social justice. This season in his life was chosen because there was extensive documentation that made the recreation possible. “We have photographs taken in October 1960 by a local photographer named Bill Scovill, which gave us a 360-degree view of the studio,” explains Kanzenberg, who notes that some 40,000 Rockwell photographs have been digitalized over the past few years.
Kanzenberg is fairly certain that the archival photographs were somewhat staged; after all, Rockwell made a career of art-directing his own paintings (as well as photographs for others such as Closing a Summer Cottage, Quogue, New York, a Kodak Colorama image that appears in the April 2009 issue of Vanity Fair to illustrate an essay on the American Dream by, coincidentally, Lakeville weekender David Kamp). But Kanzenberg says that the studio’s Shaker-like fastidiousness is not contrived. “He was notoriously neat,” she says. “He swept out his studio three times a day. He would clean his palette and put away his brushes every night.” She is training the guides who are stationed in the studio to tell the story of Rockwell’s life at the dawns of the 1960s. They will point out to visitors that the phone numbers scribbled on the wall (photo below) include those for the Red Lion and the famed pyschologist Erik Erikson, a friend of Rockwell’s who was then at Austen Riggs and whom he’d seek out for counseling. They will point out the reproduction of a pastel done by Rockwell’s wife that she made as part of her art therapy at Riggs.
The bookshelves are painstakingly arranged exactly as they were 48 years ago. But some objects from 1960 have been lost to time or were not installed because they would be damaged by too much exposure to sunlight. Kanzenberg readily points out things that are not original: the vintage blue tin can of Edgeworth Tobacco in the old photos but she had to buy on eBay. “It was $15,” she says. They could not find his pipe either, and when she found one on eBay the seller agreed to donate it to the museum. The radio is not the same one Rockwell had in his studio, but the opera that is being played is the music that Rockwell listened to while he worked. “He worked as a supernumerary at the Metropolitan Opera when he was young,” she notes. “He knew Emmy Destinn and Enrico Caruso.”
And, of course, the canvas in progress on his easel is a facsimile, though Kanzenberg notes that the fact that it is framed is historically correct. “He always painted on a framed canvas,” she says. Finally, the guides will point out that the final version of Golden Rule (which Rockwell began painting on August 19, 1960, completed in January 1961, and published on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on April 1, 1961) can be seen in the main museum across the lawn.
Norman Rockwell Museum
Free Community Day: Sunday, May 3, 12 - 4 PM
Golden Rule provides the inspiration for a family-friendly afternoon with an international flavor, featuring a performance of Brazilian music by the Berkshire Bateria, world folktales by award-winning storyteller Eshu Bumpus, dance performances by BRIDGE of Great Barrington, an original play by Julianne Hiam inspired by Rockwell’s paintings and performed by Berkshire County Day students, and a display of classic 1960s cars by the Piston Poppers.