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Norman Rockwell Exhibition
Norman Rockwells name is synonymous with his sentimental, idealized vision of the innocence of American childhood. So perhaps it makes sense that his artwork is getting a sprawling, noisy, kid-friendly treatment in a touring exhibit at the Maryland Science Centre.
: Celebrating the Art of Norman Rockwell" attempts to place his more than 300 Saturday Evening Post covers in the context of a I changing society - one that absorbed new technology, survived the Great Depression and World War II and ultimately embraced civil rights.
"Rockwell's .America" invites visitors to step inside his oil paintings - to hear, touch and feel his work along with viewing it. And like Rockwell, it tugs without apology at the heartstrings.
"I think the goal here is that when you come away from this experience, whether you're a grandparent or a parent or a child, that you've been touched emotionally;' says Glenn Tilley, president of the Becker Group, which conceived and assembled the show.
The Becker Group is a private company that got its start designing holiday displays for shopping malls and now specializes in immersive attractions, sometimes in partnership with movie studios that want to promote their latest releases.
The goal of the show, then, is not to explore the aesthetics of Norman Rockwell's art - his critics and contemporaries don't have a say. As the title indicates, the exhibit is a celebration, and it lauds Rockwell for exploring more serious topics, including the civil-rights movement, in his later work. Whether he did so effectively remains debatable.
After an introductory video, visitors move into a fanciful re-creation of Norman Rockwell's studio. Then they step through a crooked picture frame, where they are met with life-sized, three-dimensional depictions of some of his best-known paintings. There's a pond where a traveling salesman is taking an impromptu swim and a boy and girl sit hand in hand.
Addressing the theme of advancing technology, there's a room dedicated to the evolution of the telephone and a makeshift TV and radio repair shop.
There's plenty for kids to do, from dialing vintage phones to trying on costumes to sitting in a Model T Ford. Knickknacks are everywhere, accompanied by a din of sound effects and radio broadcasts.
An oil painting of a nervous father sitting with his son as he's about to leave for college marks a transition into the more somber aspects of the show.
Norman Rockwell did some of his most vivid work during World War II, including a series chronicling a baby-faced young soldier named Willie Gillis. There was also his iconic, "Rosie the Riveter", a muscular redhead on her lunch break from a factory job, with her foot on a copy of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf". It's propaganda at its most effective.
Sometimes the show's presentation is as overwrought and maudlin as critics find Norman Rockwell's paintings. In response to President Franklin Roosevelt
's 1941 speech about
's freedom of worship, freedom from fear, freedom of speech and freedom from want, Norman Rockwell painted a series that stands apart from most of his work for their stark photorealism. Reproductions of those paintings are mounted and lighted as if in a mausoleum.
Later, in the art gallery of the Saturday Evening Post covers, a cue from James 'Horner's syrupy score from the movie "Legends of the Fall" is piped in on overhead speakers - reminding visitors that they're supposed to be moved.
Music aside, the tribute gallery ­with copies of all 322 covers that Norman Rockwell painted between 1916 and 1963 - is the highlight of "Rockwell's
At times, he would churn out a cover a week for several consecutive weeks. His output slowed in later years, but the covers became more adventurous and politically aware. The
stop on the show's tour of the
features an original oil-­on-canvas of Hall of Fame Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson signing an autograph for a young fan. "Gee, Thanks, Brooks!" was painted in 1971 as an advertisement for baseball gloves and bats. Robinson bought the oil painting at auction in 1994 and is lending it to the exhibit. Only after the purchase did he learn that Rockwell, as he often did, had painted himself in the background. He vividly remembers the day he spent in Norman Rockwell's studio. "It was like going back in time for me to walk in there and see all these little objects and things you recognized from way back when he was putting out a cover every week on the Saturday Evening Post;' Robinson says.