Bums, Beauties, Boy Scouts and Sentimental Rockwell

Two old biddies man the desk at the entrance to the Norman Rockwell museum. Shivering and nattering for it was a cold morning, the morning after it had rained incessantly the day before, and you know how it always feels colder inside these old buildings sans heating.

Down Route 4, a two-lane highway snakes its way through Rutland marking its way through the green mountains that lead you to Killington. On the sidelines of that scenic route dotted by its plethora of old and colourful houses, you spot a signage with foliage creeping up its feet announcing the presence of the museum. Rockwell lived an hour from here in the ‘heart of the shires’ in between the towns of Manchester and Bennington, in a small community called Arlington that sits upon the banks of the river Batten Kill. Southwestern Vermont, to be not so precise. ‘Now my pictures grew out of the world around me, the everyday life of my neighbors,’ Rockwell had remarked upon his move to the quiet town.

Rockwell is possibly the best known of all the artists that America would have sprung upon the world in the 20th century. The native New Yorker who was born in the late 1800s to a family that in his own words was ‘substantial, well to do, character and fortunes founded on three generations of wealth’ – Rockwell had an epiphany early on about his calling in life. He drew and drew because it took his mind off his ‘narrow shoulders, long neck, and pigeon toes’. By the age of 18, he had a full-time job of illustrating for magazines. Boy scouts and covers for the Saturday Evening Posts were probably the most important themes that his artwork revolved around in the initial years.

When this New Yorker moved to Vermont did it mean that he started painting the brilliant autumnal colours of the New England vista that unfurled before his eyes, before his very windows? Nah. It was the mid-40s when he had made the move, the crucial WWII years during which the artist painted his iconic work ‘Four Freedoms’ based upon the ideals of freedom. To speak, to worship, liberation from fear, from want. Yet he portrayed them through the common man. His neighbours. Their rituals. Scenes from an average American life and the great American dream. Those are the scenes that wooed me as I walked in ultra-slow motion through the two wings of the building, chuckling with the man and his subjects, for even though there is humour in spades there, it is gentle. For sneers do not melt the butter and empathy with your subjects can only endear you to the reader/viewer.

And then Adi, who within half an hour had zoned out, wanting to break out already into the arms of the day that was slowly brightening up under the rays of a reluctant sun. In museums, they should reserve a room for those who want to nap or take a break, don’t you think? I would safely deposit Adi there and spend hours basking in the glow of art till my brain hollers for a break. Till I start to feel the pricking of, as Emily Dickinson so aptly wrote, ‘a Funeral, in my Brain’. Adi had at any rate got there before me. But then the fates conspired with my husband. A busload of Russian tourists took over the museum and they refused to give way. Loquacious. Loud. Funeral in the brain alright. Scuttle. Unwillingly.

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Scouting is Outing. Original oil painting for ‘Boy Scout’ calendar, 1968.
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Fireman. Original oil painting for ‘Post’ cover, May 27, 1944.
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The Tattoo Artist. Original oil painting for ‘Post’ cover, March 4, 1944.

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Still Good. Original oil painting for advertisement for Interwoven socks, 1927.
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Triple Self-Portrait. Original oil painting for ‘Post’ cover, February 13, 1960.
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Thanksgiving (The Glutton). Original oil painting for ‘Life’ cover, November 22, 1923.
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Homecoming G.I. Original oil painting for ‘Post’ cover, May 26, 1945.

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Shall this museum, a small repository of Rockwellian memories, survive the passage of time? You see it is up for sale, and on the agenda of a father and son duo from Vermont eyeing it is a dispensary doling out medical marijuana. Life is a tale told by an idiot and you know the bard is never wrong.

67 thoughts on “Bums, Beauties, Boy Scouts and Sentimental Rockwell

  1. Blimey that last paragraph is the irony of ironies. I so agree that museums should have recovery rooms. We all have our own pace and our own capacity and it is sometimes too much for a person. Give them a break and throw them back in … you never know – they might really appreciate the requiem. Rockwell is at some level acquired, I think – I find him amusing and challenging in turns others love or detest him … but that is art, non? Thank you for the pictures and the illuminating backstory that I might never have bothered to find out xx

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    1. A recovery room. As usual, you have the answer to my dilemmas. Should we start a campaign? You lead, I shall follow with trays of refreshments. And pots of tea of course.

      People detest Rockwell? Detest is such a strong word. Alack how does one feel such antipathy towards the man, I wonder… it just scrambles my brain. Who defines what art is?
      Thank you for reading as always, Osyth. Your comment adds a perk to the step 🙂 xx

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  2. That is a great idea – a recovery room in a museum. But I often think museums are not interested in encouraging people to really look – they just want to get people in and out – more about money than appreciation. I could get quite grumpy on this subject!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I sense the emotions churning there 😉 But on a serious note, there are many places where you would not end up returning and it is for those places that I think of the need for one. So that you do not feel short-changed at the end of a day. That niggling feeling that you did not quite do justice to it…

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  3. Fun post. I recommend you visit the formal Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. It is a lovely museum that can be done in a couple of hours. It has many of his original oils. It also hosts other exhibitions. Stockbridge is a lovely area.

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  4. I missed this place when I went to Vermont. Looks like somewhere I would linger and my wife would complete a tour in 10 minutes! Really wish I’d gone now, especially if it might not continue. I do hope the pictures can be displayed somewhere else, if it becomes a “pharmacy”.

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    1. It is impossible not to miss places, is it not? This museum is not the main Rockwell museum which happens to be in Massachusetts as I found out later. We spotted it on the way to Woodstock and you can imagine that a museum lover cannot let such a prospect go untapped. For once it is my husband who indulged me and insisted that we stop yet he knew the danger he was courting 😉
      It is a shame if it is discontinued but I suspect it shall. Maybe the next time you are in Vermont you could check on it.

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      1. Our cultural highlight in the Green Mountain State was a visit to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory! As well as the fascinating industrial and agricultural history, it had the advantage of a tasting session 😛

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  5. Oh! Beauties, all these photos, as usual! My favorites: “Triple Self-Portrait” and “Homecoming G.I.” … And the two final portraits (#3 and #2 before the end) are quite touching. Thank you! I feel I was there! 🙂

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    1. Thanks Theresa 🙂 I loved those too. I would be hard pressed to choose. I love the emotions that are mirrored in those illustrations and oil paintings. I have an obvious soft spot for the old way of advertising through illustrations. xx

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      1. Yes, me too! There is something very compelling about the illustration style of art. I recently saw some black-and-white ink drawings of an early 20th century artist, Jack Butler Yeats (brother of the poet Yeats) on one of those “Antiques Roadshow” programs, where people bring in stuff from their attic for experts to evaluate? Keats had been an illustrator before he became a painter, and those ink drawings on the show were amazing. Thanks!

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      2. I love the show – is this the British Antiques Roadshow that you are talking about or is there an American version of it? We used to watch it regularly and wonder about the kind of heirlooms we have, what fancy sum they could fetch… Yeats had a brother who was an artist? Thanks now I shall go look him up! 🙂 xx

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  6. So sad to hear that the museum is up for sale! Would love to have visit and take my mom there. She loves his work. It was wonderful to be reminded that although he is mostly known for his illustrations, his painting of Nehru shows how much of master portraitist he was. Thanks for documenting this lovely museum. – Neek

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Neek, I thought of your mom and you when I was writing this. The main museum I gather is in Massachusetts but this one did a nifty job too in that it contains enough to make your head spin. One might think too many stacked into two huge rooms but well who am I to quibble about space. Btw I loved the portrait of Nehru too though I have my reservations about the man himself 🙂

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      1. My mom and I thank you very much! She enjoyed reading your article and seeing your wonderful photos. We also spent a weekend afternoon revisiting her various Norman Rockwell books. You gave us an opportunity to share a mother/daughter moment. I thank you for that! As for Nehru, yes an enigmatic and complicated person. Still, I like his hat 😉

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      2. Hahaha for all his flaws, he was a brilliant writer. Passages from Discovery of India made me like him somewhat, certainly for his talent in stringing words together. And how can I ever ignore that hat!
        I am glad to hear about the mother-daughter moment of delving into Rockwell. A special thing, Neek 🙂 *hugs

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  7. Oh absolutely there should be a separate room for people in museums. Case in point my father – he managed to see the entire Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam in 25 mins after waiting for 30 mins in queue. Ha!
    Always can I say how inconvenient I find big tour groups in museums? I have had to skip precious displays/entire rooms because people couldn’t be bothered to stick close together.

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    1. Likewise Anushree. Big groups kill the entire mood right? After this particular one, we were wondering – between the lot of Americans, Russians and Indians which race could win the I-am-the-loudest card 😉
      Your father sounds like my husband. Supermen! 😀

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  8. Catching up on your blog, as I’ve been on the road lately. I laughed out loud when you suggested there should be beds at museums. I once met a man who complained about his hotel and that this museum (in which we were) was his last option to relieve his jet lag. Hilarious.

    I enjoyed your selection of art, very witty. What did you like most?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey you, it is the best way to be, on the road, that is. I have been out of the catch-up zone too.
      If you think of it, that poor jetlagged man did have a point. What was he doing in a museum (unless someone had gagged him and dragged him to it)? But a bed ah, I suspect that room might get too crowded 😉

      Thank you for enjoying the art pieces. It is difficult for me to choose a favourite – really – but if you insist, the fireman 😀 Yours?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. He had a point indeed, every time I see people sleeping at museums I emphasize in a way I didn’t before knowing this man heheh.

        The fireman is the best one, we agree. The triple self-portrait made me chuckle too. I hope you include more art pieces in your following posts 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for sharing! I got my love of Norman Rockwell from my Grandma so your post brought back lots of awesome memories. I’ll have to add that museum to my list:)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello AJ, thank you for dropping by and sparing the time to read. I am chuffed to hear that it brought back memories of your grandma. It is a small museum, and if by chance you do not find it when you go, there is a significant one in Massachusetts. x

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