Norman Rockwell Museum
September 27, 2017
We were on a vacation trip to western Massachusetts, where Bob grew up, and decided to take a day trip to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. We eschewed the bland scenery offered by the turnpike and instead took country highways to get there. The countryside and small towns are beautiful! We did not manage to hit the fall foliage at peak color, but scattered trees had started to change color, and they made for a pretty landscape.
Once inside the museum, we went down to the lower level to watch a 15 minute video overview of Rockwell’s life and career. We then strolled around the gallery on the lower level and looked at over 300 Saturday Evening Post magazine covers. All feature Rockwell cover art. They are arranged chronologically, spanning over 50 years of his work for that magazine. Many of his best-known pieces appeared on the cover of that magazine, and we enjoyed the lesser-known pieces as well. Many are whimsical, others serious and often inspiring. Elsewhere on the lower level several preliminary sketches and paintings are exhibited. These were studies for later finished works. There is also a classroom type space where children can sit and draw. Materials are provided for them.
On the upper level we strolled through several large gallery rooms. There is the permanent collection of Rockwell’s paintings, of course. One of the paintings we liked most was The Marriage License, painted in 1955. It is set in what was then the actual town clerk’s office in Stockbridge – now a Yankee Candle store — and shows a happy young couple watched by a somewhat wistful town clerk. We learned the backstory at the museum. The man in the painting was the actual town clerk at the time, and his wife had died shortly before Rockwell painted the scene.
In the same gallery hangs a vibrant portrait of the young Abraham Lincoln trying his famous murder case, and a Christmas homecoming painting in which Rockwell, his wife, all three of their sons, and various friends are all pictured. We also enjoyed the famous Thanksgiving: Mother and Son Peeling Potatoes painting done in 1945. The love between them radiates from the painting, as they work together in preparation for the feast.
The museum also has space for special exhibitions. When we visited there was a Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol exhibit, showing similar or same subjects side-by-side, as illustrated by the two different artists. Two different portraits of Jackie Kennedy, for instance, were displayed next to one another, one each by Rockwell and Warhol.
Meredith liked the fanciful and cheerful paintings of Andy Warhol’s nephew, James Warhola. Many scenes from his children’s book Uncle Andy’s: A Faabbbulous Visit with Andy Warhol were displayed, as was some of Warhola’s cover art from science fiction novels. A piece used for the cover of one of the Spider Robinson Callahan’s Cross-time Saloon books was displayed in the center of the room.
Another room was devoted to showing the process of creating finished illustrations. Several different artists’ work was shown there, including Rockwell’s work for the painting Art Critic, done in 1955. Three different preliminary sketches are shown, for the female face in the painting which is being examined by the critic. They are all very different, but all humorous in one way or another. We can also see how the painting in the background beside the critic changed. Initially Rockwell made it a landscape, but later he changed it to a group of men in Renaissance dress, who seem to be looking at the art critic, as he in turn stares intently at the details of the costume the female figure is wearing in the painting on the left.
The museum grounds are scenic and extensive. In addition to the main building, there is also Rockwell’s final studio, which he used for the last two decades of his career. It was relocated from its location elsewhere in Stockbridge to these grounds, at his request at the end of his life. The studio is arranged and outfitted as it would have appeared in the early 1960s. Books owned by Rockwell and various props and knickknacks furnish the room, and an easel is set up.
Docents give regular talks in the galleries, and we listened to two different docents explain details about several of the paintings displayed. There was also a docent stationed in the studio, available to answer questions.
We enjoyed the experience overall and thought it was well worth a trip. Admission is a little pricey, $20 for the full adult admission. There are discounts for seniors, students, and some others. The museum also offers combination packages with other Berkshire area attractions. Parking is free and plentiful. The museum is handicapped accessible. It has an elevator between the main and lower levels, and walkways on the grounds are paved and slope gently.
There is a museum café, but we did not check it out. Instead, we enjoyed a late lunch at Once Upon A Table back in the center of Stockbridge, next to the Red Lion Inn. Service and food were excellent, and we would definitely go back another time if we are in the area.
Note: to be respectful of copyrights, we have not pulled Rockwell painting images into this post. We have linked to some images on the museum site, and invite you to explore the extensive archives on that site, which include source materials such as photos, as well as the finished paintings.