I know I just said I was going to review books of fellow bloggers, but I saw a review of this book by Jane Allen Petrick on Marilyn Armstrong’s blog, Serendipity, and I felt like I had to read it. I’m glad I did, as you’ll see.
When you think of Norman Rockwell and his art, what usually crosses your mind? Most people think about drawings and paintings depicting normal (white) people in plain (white) folksy settings, usually in (white) middle American, doing normal (white) things. The drawings are often very realistic and tell stories with a bit of humor yet respect for the (white) subjects. Some might even hold him up as someone who illustrated Good Old Fashioned (White) American Family Values.
Did I say most people see Norman Rockwell’s vision of America as being very Caucasian?
In reality Norman Rockwell thought all people should be treated with respect and equality. He did include people of color in his drawings and paintings. Unfortunately some of his largest paying clients, like The Saturday Evening Post and the Boy Scouts of America, really didn’t agree with these ideas and didn’t want the artist to depict blacks in any but the most menial roles, limiting his ability to draw his own vision of equality. Despite this disincentive Norman Rockwell was still able to show his vision to some degree. In his later career he achieved it to a larger degree, including the very iconic painting, “The Problem We All Live With.”
In “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America” Jane Allen Petrick explores several paintings where Norman Rockwell did include people of color or promoted a more equal vision of America. Better yet, she puts a human face to these paintings. She tries to discover the models and tell their stories. Most of the stories are about good, upstanding families living in small towns, families that happened to have roots outside of Europe.
I really liked the book. One of the author’s achievements was her ability to use these little family histories and mini-biographies to show how these people of color fit into the fabric of small town America just as much as the typical white faces people usually look at in Norman Rockwell’s paintings.
There’s more to “Hidden in Plain Sight” than that, of course. Just by looking at the title you can guess that one of the themes Jane Allen Petrick explores is why people have such a whitewashed view of Norman Rockwell’s art. I’ll leave it up to you to explore this and the other intriguing themes by reading Jane Allen Petrick’s excellent book yourself. You can buy it Amazon here.
Painting by Norman Rockwell found on http://www.nrm.org through Google