Rockwell exhibit goes into depth

Denver Art Museum shows works of widely known American artist


Many of the images are familiar, but perhaps we’ve seen them one at a time ... on Saturday Evening Post covers, at least if one has accumulated a few years like this writer ... on posters, post cards, in books and magazines ...

Many also speak to today’s edgy world, really.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, President Franklin Roosevelt was facing a world that was about to fracture and it was important to send a message to his people about what was important — and meriting defense, protection ...

Well-known illustrator Norman Rockwell was commissioned at that time by the Saturday Evening Post and Look magazines to create a series of covers, which fill a gallery wall. He was also asked by his president and governmen to address the Four Freedoms: freedom of speech and of worship; freedom from want and from fear. Four specific large paintings illustrate the freedoms, but many more refer to them, as they apply to individuals or families …

Related paintings, created at the same time, fill second-floor galleries in a Denver Art Museum that was only partially reopened when we visited.

The exhibit was curated by the Norman Rockwell Museum and by Dr. Timothy Standring for Denver Art Museum. It will be a good one for a family, as an introduction to how art can tell a story.

And perhaps a bit of a parent’s or grandparent’s life story as well.

“Norman Rockwell: Imagining Freedom” is at the Denver Art Museum only until Sept. 7 and illustrates a period in our nation’s history, in one illustrator’s distinctive, often humorous, style.

The paintings were intended to make the American public more open to the idea of defending those four freedoms — militarily if necessary — as were works by many other artists at that time. (Some may recall a Littleton Museum exhibit some years ago that was composed entirely of such paintings ...)

“The Golden Rule,” (1961) with its more than two dozen faces of varied hues, illustrates the publicity about this thought-provoking exhibit and is a powerful push for the one-world concept so often mentioned today. Elders, adults, teens, young children and babies all look at us — and look ahead to facing parallel futures in this country.

One can get drawn into the stories Rockwell paintings tell and perhaps not focus on the message, but each tells a story with a clear message. Often, they generate a chuckle as we look.

Civil rights were important to Rockwell. We especially recognize “The Problem We All Live With,” depicting a tiny Black girl, Ruby Bridges, dressed in her Sunday best, being ushered to a newly integrated school by four large U.S. marshals. The curator also brought in a video of an interview with the articulate, grown-up Ruby Bridges. (Affixed to that Bridges feature is a message from President Barack Obama, about how her bravery influenced him.)

As we enter the gallery, a giant, cheerful, strong “Rosie the Riveter” greets us, a sample of popular propaganda art he created for the American government.

Across the room is the wall of Saturday Evening Post covers, which paid for the art, since there was no government fund for commissioning it, even if it was desired.

This collection is a part of our history, classified as illustration — and yet it’s appropriate for the art museum as an example of the power of art to tell a story.


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