Mostly known for illustrating 323 Saturday Evening Post covers throughout his career, Norman Rockwell wasn’t a favorite among critics. However, his work has been revived as a reminder of a simpler time in modern-American history.
Fremont Center for the Arts is currently featuring 80 Rockwell prints, and to President Jeanne McGee they are the essence of art, even if Rockwell’s work wasn’t always seen that way.
As recent as 2010 the Washington Post’s Blake Gopnik reviewed the Rockwell exhibit at the Smithsonian, and Rockwell still wasn’t a hit.
“He doesn’t challenge any of us, or himself, to think new thoughts or try new acts or look with fresh eyes,” Gopnik wrote. “From the docile realism of his style to the received ideas of his subjects, Rockwell reliably keeps us right in the middle of our comfort zone.”
The comfort zone of which Gopnik refers to is exactly what McGee likes about Rockwell’s work. It’s humbling and simple. He sketched what he observed in everyday life and captured the moments that were familiar to ordinary people.
“I think he captured American life. Did he glamorize it? No. There is honesty in his work,” she said. “It was courageous that he could capture American life without embellishing it.”
The exhibition the FCA is hosting, “Norman Rockwell and the American Family,” through August 31 was a project that spanned nearly two decades.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Rockwell was commissioned by the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company to create images that would persuade Americans to buy life insurance. To date it’s the largest amount of work to be made by a commissioned artist.
Nowadays, those images aren’t a marketing tool but a reminder of what family life was like during the 50s and 60s. The images still do their job though. They’re reminders of the importance of little moments that are often significant memories, such as a baby’s first steps, high school graduation, setting up a lemonade stand during the summer or playing dress up in Mom’s old clothes.
The prints are pencil on paper, a subliminal prompt that Rockwell’s message is simplicity. Whether or not it sold life insurance, it certainly created a feeling of attachment to family life.
For his work, Rockwell often used his friends and neighbors as models, which McGee believes gave the work its worthiness. Though the sketches were staged, the scenes are relatable today.
“There’s not many pictures you walk by and don’t relate to. We’ve all been to the dentist or doctor or given the pets a bath,” Mcgee said. She can walk by almost every print and a memory comes to mind.
It’s also the influence of friends, family and neighbors in Rockwell’s work that makes the show perfect for the FCA, McGee added. “He was very family and neighbor oriented, and that’s how we live (here).”
While the traveling exhibition is popular and a big hit for the FCA, it’s more about the community, McGee said. It has been the organization’s goal to bring a larger name to town in July and August to help tourism efforts. Last year the FCA featured Thomas Kinkade.
“Since the Royal Gorge Fire everybody’s hurting and we figure we can help. Maybe get people to stay in the area a little longer. Maybe they’ll see the bridge one day and want to stay another night so they can see Rockwell the next day, and they’ll have breakfast,” McGee said.
Admission into the exhibition is $8 for visitors not living in Fremont County, $5 for Fremont County residents, $3 for FCA members and free for kids 12-years-old and younger.
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