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February 10, 2021

Norman Rockwell & Civil Rights

Many think of Normal Rockwell as a deft chronicler of cheery, uncomplicated American life.

He’s certainly that, but when you look closer at his work, you’re reminded that he sometimes went deeper. He could be something of an activist, urging readers of The Saturday Evening Post and other magazines to think more openly and deeply about civil rights, the women’s vote, and democracy itself.

There was young Ruby Bridges about to integrate a New Orleans elementary school in “The Problem We All Live With,” “Rosie the Riveter” taking a lunch break during the war effort, the FDR-inspired “Four Freedoms,” and a bureaucrat’s empty chair in “The Right to Know.” In all there were more than 4,000 works over his 70-year career. He died in 1978.

“I think he was probably more edgy than people would want to believe,” says Tom Daly, former curator of education for The Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge. “For most people, he fits in a very nice box – you could say he painted boys and puppies, which of course he did – but he also created one of the most moving images during World War II in Rosie the Riveter. It was an opportunity for people to understand the importance that women had during that time period and to highlight to sacrifices that women faced during the 1940s.”

A great chance to learn more about Rockwell

We enthusiastically invite you to hear more on Rockwell from Tom next Friday, Feb. 12, at 11 a.m. for our “Kendal at Home Coffee Hour: Norman Rockwell & Civil Rights.” Click to register.

Tom, our host, has worked for more than 30 years as a museum professional. He’s lectured at college campuses and museums around the country about Rockwell’s work, life, and times, and served tens of thousands of students from pre-kindergarten to graduate school through his programs.

A brief planning call with Tom turned into an exhilarating sneak preview of the upcoming Kendal at Home Coffee Hour. He considered the question, who is today’s Norman Rockwell? We were thinking of the New Yorker cartoonists, or maybe Banksy.

Tom had a better answer: “I don’t think we’ll find the next Norman Rockwell in a traditional medium like illustration. I think we’ll find the next Norman Rockwell on TikTok, where you have an opportunity to talk about stories happening right away and make them as timeless as we can. I think we’re going to find a fourteen, fifteen or sixteen-year-old person who will say, ‘I see the hardships that are out there but there are lots of good things that are happening too.’ “

So join us (register here) for what promises to be a fascinating conversation.

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