Norman Rockwell: The Force is With Us

Did Norman Rockwell’s America ever exist? Other than in his paintings and drawings and Frank Capra movies, probably not. However, thanks to the generosity of filmmakers George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, who have made their Rockwell collections available to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, we have time to bask in the joys of his world. 

Once you see Rockwell’s work large and up close, you realize that the Saturday Evening Post covers didn’t do him justice. His colors are bold and beautiful and his attention to little details is phenomenal.

The exhibit gives you the chance to see many of Rockwell’s works in charcoal or pencil on paper first as a sketch, before he did the actual paintings. It’s really fascinating to notice the refinements made when completed as an oil painting. What I discovered from the exhibit is that there was often a long period of time between his sketch and the final painting. “First Trip to a Beauty Shop” was begun in 1961 and in the sketch features a little girl and a picture of Jackie Kennedy. The painting was completed in 1972 and Jackie Kennedy is no longer in the picture and the focus is on the girl.

I particularly enjoyed “Freedom of Speech,” done in 1943. The oil painting is beautiful and looks like it stepped right out of Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Another favorite was the ad done for Underwood (1923), called “And Daniel Boone Comes to Life on the Underwood Portable.” It’s very imaginative and clever.

If you have time, the exhibit features a short film on Rockwell, narrated by Lucas and Spielberg. It helps put Rockwell’s work in context and definitely enriches your experience.

Norman Rockwell from the collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg
Through January 2, 2011
Smithsonian American Art Museum
8th and F Streets, NW, Washington DC
Hours: Daily 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.


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