April in New England can be fickle. About ten days ago, I slid to the edge of the road as I took a turn on ice covered roads on my way to work. Yesterday, I spent the day with the windows down and the sunroof open as I drove toward Western Mass in the golden glow of the April sun. Trees are preparing to burst, but for now, the green canopy of summer is still weeks away. Through fields and quaint towns, I wandered a hundred miles on winding roads. Stone walls, white steeples, and green town commons welcomed me as I drove through town after town.
My drive led to the Norman Rockwell museum in Stockbridge MA. This tiny town, memorialized on the pages of the Saturday Evening Post seems to have stood still. Main street’s buildings, gift shops, and artisans all welcomed visitors with kind greetings and celebrations of the glorious day. I enjoyed a tasty lunch under an orange umbrella in a courtyard just off the main street where a few tourists and locals gathered to enjoy the first kiss of sun on pale skin.
Once I arrived at the museum, I wandered for a while reading the placards and exploring on my own. I joined the scheduled tour as the guide led visitors through the galleries, pointing out important details in the paintings. We walked by the lunch counter where the state trooper bought the runaway a meal. We stopped to consider the little boy preparing for his vaccination in the doctor’s office. These scenes from another time, are familiar and comforting.
Paintings of homecomings after the war, of returning to civilian life, and the everyday normality of childhood and rites of passage are captured in this work.
The four freedoms, however, were the paintings I came to see. These iconic illustrations capture values close to my heart.
Freedom of Speech
Freedom of Worship
Freedom from Want
Freedom from Fear
On a dark September night in 2001, I tucked my own children into bed thinking of this illustration. In the fifty plus years between World War II and 9/11, not much had changed for fearful parents hoping to protect and preserve their children’s innocence in a scary world.
Norman Rockwell did not compete with the great masters. He told simple stories of real life through his art. He achieved his childhood dream of becoming an illustrator and he rose to the top of his profession. He noticed and celebrated the common everyday parts of life. He loved to create images that told stories of ordinary people.
Commonplaces never become tiresome. It is we who become tired when we cease to be curious and appreciative. -Norman Rockwell
As I drove back to my real life in the fading light of spring, I considered the ways that art can capture a feeling, a moment in time, or a way of seeing and hold it forever. Paintings and photographs can do this, as can sculpture and architecture. These worlds of shape and color fascinate me even if I am barely literate in their ways. I spend most of my time firmly in the world of words, but every once in a while I like to wander into these other realms. It’s good for me to remember there are many ways to see the world, to celebrate its wonder, and to create art.
This is part of my 50 before I’m 50 challenge. I hope you follow along and join in the fun!