Norman Rockwell’s artistic process on display in new exhibition of rarely seen drawings | theater arts

STOCKBRIDGE – Paint did not touch Norman Rockwell’s easel canvas until one of his works had gone through a rigorous drawing process. His multi-step approach included sketches, posed models, photographic references, and at least one

STOCKBRIDGE – Paint did not touch Norman Rockwell’s easel canvas until one of his works had gone through a rigorous drawing process.

His multi-step approach included sketches, posed models, photographic references, and at least one large-scale charcoal or graphite drawing that would later be traced onto his canvas. Sometimes he would cut pieces from a sketch, removing the offending part that he no longer felt added to the work as a whole.

In the skit of “The whole yard was filled with confusion, although the animals, without any attempt to hurt anyone, moved closer to the peasant’s side”, Rockwell’s self-editing is still present.

“Everyone thinks we cracked the glass on this one and we didn’t,” said Norman Rockwell Museum marketing director Margrit Hotchkiss, pointing to what appears to be a crack in the glass covering the picture.

But the fine line, as she said, is not in the glass, but the result of a pair of scissors or some other sharp instrument cutting, carefully, between a monkey holding a cobra in its hand and back of a lion that he was sitting.

“These are preliminary drawings for a painting he is about to do. He is working on his problem. He obviously didn’t like his representation of the monkey and the snake. He cut it out and put a new piece of paper in its place,” she said.

The work is part of “Norman Rockwell: Drawings”, an exhibition of rarely seen Rockwell drawings and preliminary studies from the illustrator’s six-decade career, on view at the Norman Rockwell Museum until January 7, 2023.

The show includes some of his early work, as he embarks on his journey as an illustrator.

One of the rare exhibits, made in 1912, was made by Rockwell for a mission in an art school.

“He loved Charles Dickens, because his father read to them around the dinner table when he was a child. So when it came time to do an illustration, he chose to do one of “Christmas Carol.” It’s a scene where the ghost of the Christmas present looms with Scrooge and watches over the party. This is a couple, courting, who got caught up in this game of Blind Man Bluff,” said Stephanie Haboush Plunkett, chief curator and deputy director of the museum. “But what I find interesting is that he tries to create a sense of expression and individuality in his work, but he doesn’t really have the skills to do that. It will be a few more years, I would say. We are in 1912. He was much closer when he made his first cover for the [Saturday Evening] post in 1917.

In these early works on paper, pencil and graphite sketches, there are small hints of a young Rockwell trying to figure it all out, down to the size and style of his signature.

More significant is the opportunity in this exhibition to see Rockwell and his artistic process grow and mature over time.

Study for the problem we all live with, 1963

In “Study for the Trouble We All Live With, 1963,” we see Lynda Gunn, one of two models for “The Trouble We All Live With.” Lynda and her first cousin, Anita, both modeled for painting.

Originally, Rockwell worked with studio models who were present throughout his artistic process, which consisted of five to 15 stages. But in 1935, while working on commission to illustrate a new edition of “Tom Sawyer”, Rockwell began to incorporate photographs into his process. This would be a game changer for the illustrator. It was no longer limited to poses that studio models could hold for long periods of time or by the need to have bulky props available at all times. The photographic references accelerated a small part of his artistic process.

“The way he worked was he would usually do a thumbnail sketch, a selection or a series of them that an art director might look at and they would say, ‘Let’s go this way.’ As soon as an idea was approved, he would start gathering the models, the props – he would bring people into the studio to photograph them,” Plunkett said.

For the January 6, 1964 cover of Look magazine, featuring “The Trouble We All Live With,” Rockwell used two young girls, Lynda and Anita Gunn, first cousins ​​and granddaughters of the County NAACP President. Berkshire, David Gunn, as Models for Ruby Bridges.

On display are photographs of Lynda and Anita, both in dresses and white shoes, posed halfway.

“What you see here is really fun. Lynda’s dad stabilizes her because Rockwell asked her to put her heel and toe on those two two-by-fours, making her look like she’s walking, even though in reality no one walks with their toe that high in the air. But it helped give it a sense of movement,” she said.

Other photographs associated with the painting show how Rockwell toyed with the idea of ​​including protesters in the painting.

“In the real stories, there were people who had signs, who were surrounding the school, protesting the integration of the school. So he thought about replicating that,” Plunkett said. “I think this what he probably determined, ultimately, was that it wasn’t going to be a good pictorial decision. But he took pictures of things like concrete walls. He actually threw tomatoes on a board to see what the splatter looked like.

The best photos would become the basis for his final painting, which began as a life-size charcoal sketch. When he was satisfied with a piece, the work was enlarged by projection onto a larger board. From there, photographs were used for toning and shading. Once complete, this image was moved onto canvas using transfer paper and the painting could finally be laid down.

Many of the drawings in the exhibit, Plunkett said, were rolled up and in pieces when they arrived at the museum because Rockwell never planned to display them.

“He kept them in a studio and in a pile. Sometimes he cut out a piece he didn’t like and pasted the part he liked on a new sheet. He was doing it with rubber cement which is unstable,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of work to conserve the collection by bringing it to Williamstown, Art Conservation Center and they’ve curated quite a few of them. So now they are in good shape, fortunately, for the next generations.

IN VIEWJennifer Huberdeau can be reached at [email protected] or 413-496-6229. On Twitter: @BE_DigitalJen