Thursday, June 18, 2009


The other day we headed out to The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. We have been wanting to go for ages. I don’t want to discourage anyone from visiting, but we were a little disappointed. The museum is in an exquisitely beautiful location. Picture Tanglewood but add an artist’s studio and a museum building which echoes the design of a New England church. The interior design of the museum is a lovely intersection between modern and traditional, with touches of slate for flooring which grounds it nicely to the environment. The ceilings are high without being cavernous and are trimmed with simply designed, yet massive crown molding which provide a frame for each gallery space.

Out of what appeared to be eight gallery spaces, only five were open and hung with Norman Rockwell pieces. The remaining ones were roped off and being prepared for a contemporary sculpture exhibition of the works of Rockwell’s youngest son Peter. Complicating matters, the museum has mounted a ten city traveling retrospective of Rockwell’s work. That will be on view in Stockbridge beginning July 4th of this year. These two situations left us feeling as if the Rockwell pieces which remained on display, while wonderful, were slimmer than we had expected. Strolling through the gift shop before departing only emphasized the missing pieces, as we looked at prints of the artist’s most famous works.

Two other occurrences left us puzzled. The first was the illumination. The lighting throughout the gallery spaces was uneven. The center room had an enormous skylight which, on a partly sunny day, left it flooded with bright, diffused light. That allowed each painting in that room to be appreciated with ease. The adjacent octagonal room held the iconic “Four Freedoms”. This space had diffused, natural light spilling in from a window in an adjacent room, which left two of the paintings in some shadow. The other three rooms were all quite dim, one, painted in deep tones, was positively gloomy. Even though each piece of artwork was individually lit, they were not “spotlit”. Had the lighting been consistent throughout, we would have assumed it had something to do with preservation of perhaps unstable materials. But moving from bright to dim as we walked room to room left us squinting.

The second problem was grammatical. Alongside each piece of Rockwell’s art a lengthy, informative description was hung. Beyond the typical year painted and materials used, facts about the development of the painting or the inspiration for the piece and even Rockwell’s personal circumstances at the time were included in these narratives. Unfortunately so were typographical errors - including words transposed and others run together. We enjoyed learning the background for these paintings, but the typos became a distraction.

Both Chuck and I have been lifelong fans of Norman Rockwell’s work. His lighthearted pieces make us smile and his serious pieces never fail to move us. Standing in his last, and what he considered to be his finest, studio gave us a little chill knowing it was the room which had once been filled with his intensity and his creativity. Viewing “The Marriage License”, each of “The Four Freedoms”, “The Golden Rule”, “Home for Thanksgiving”, “Saying Grace” and, perhaps most moving, “New Kids In The Neighborhood” was a memorable experience. We just wish that all aspects of the museum had risen to the same level as the best of Rockwell’s work. And despite the surprising shortcomings of the experience, we might try to get back sometime during July or August for the return of “American Chronicles” in hopes of viewing some of the “missing pieces”.

No comments: