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Norman Rockwell Museum and Studio, Stockbridge, MA

The whole western half of Massachusetts is a cultural blend of boutique museums, large scale contemporary art compounds, historic homes and natural beauty. Situated in the middle of the Berkshires, (the most western of the counties in Ma.) is Stockbridge, home of the Norman Rockwell Museum and what was to be his last art studio. The studio itself was cut into two parts and moved from the town center of Stockbridge and relocated to be within a short walk from the museum. The museum looks like a mixture of Early American Colonialism and classical Protestant church design. I guess this is a place where “early times” reverence mixes with Eisenhower era psyche into very white, clean and bucolic vision of Americana. The collection is a wonderful compilation of all things Norman Rockwell, with a whole wing of the museum devoted to the Saturday Evening Post covers and Boy’s Life illustrations. The paintings are great to see for their flatness and illustrative acumen. When Norman did try to paint for paintings sake the work tends to be less successful, dry and without context. It was a strange dynamic, when painting for the camera his work is snappy, bright and curious; taking chances as to what the camera will observe… but when the work is to stand on its own merits without the help of studio and lightning devices the paintings tend to be more tedious and less self-assured. Don’t get me wrong, NR was / is a creative inspiration, one of the most popular artists of the 20th century and the NR Museum has plenty of his liberal and socially minded creations of the sixties on exhibit that qualify as legitimate protest work. My point is the museum, the studio, the manicured grounds mirror his illustrations, favoring the New Englander stereotype; well-mannered, groomed and preserved. It’s rather illusory however, depriving us from seeing the real man who spent time in California, had three marriages, suffered greatly from depression and anxiety while preferring the company of men (nothing wrong w that).  The atmosphere is more a remembrance of a man’s past and less a celebration of an artist’s life; certainly both are possible.

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