by Cristy Meiners, producer
It’s hard to grow up in the U.S. and NOT know Norman Rockwell’s work. His paintings of families and homey communities graced the covers of The Saturday Evening Post for nearly 50 years. If you missed that era as I did, you can still see Rockwell’s images plastered on collectors plates, cross stitches, mugs, calendars, and anything else with a smooth surface; 32 years after his death, Rockwell is still America’s best-known and likely most beloved artist.
But Rockwell didn’t only paint an idealized portrait of America. After all, the same artist who painted the young couple in “After the Prom” also painted “The Problem We All Live With.” There Rockwell showed five year old Ruby Nell Bridges, the first African-American child to attend an all-white school in the South, walking with U.S. Marshals to school; a recently thrown tomato plastered the wall behind her, obviously just missing her white dress. While Rockwell is largely known for his witty and sometimes saccharine portrayal of American life, he didn’t shy away from some of our country’s ugly problems, as well.
All of which makes Rockwell’s America the perfect model for directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucus. The two directors and friends have collected Rockwell’s works since they first started making enough money to collect his paintings, and both men have cited the America Rockwell created as inspiration for their own fictional worlds. Films like E.T., American Graffiti, Star Wars, the Indiana Jones series, Always, and Saving Private Ryan are about personal honor, the importance of home and family, and a love for one’s country, or planet, as the case may be. Like Rockwell, they are mythmakers, rooted in values and beliefs that their viewers can relate to.
Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg is at Smithsonian American Art Museum through January 2, 2011.
Click here for a full slide show of the exhibition.
Below are the images discussed during the interview.
Boy on High Dive