On this day in 1894, the great painter Norman Rockwell was born. He is best known for his many covers for The Saturday Evening Post. I never thought much about him when I was younger. But over the years, I’ve come to really appreciate his cleverness and even subversion. Rockwell was a good old fashioned New Deal Democrat. You know: the kind of person who would be called a radical today.
A great example of his political orientation was found in his Four Freedoms series. It is a representation of Franklin D Roosevelt’s State of the Union address in 1941. And the four freedoms are radical by today’s standards. They include two “of” freedoms: freedom of speech and freedom of worship. Everyone agrees with those because they’ve been around for so long. But show me a Republican who would agree with the two “from” freedoms: freedom from want and freedom from fear. Even among so called liberals in this country, there is only modest support for the idea that there might be freedoms that would require any sacrifice from the power elite.
Rockwell created those paintings for The Saturday Evening Post. But by 1963, he left the magazine because of the constraints it was putting on his work. He wanted to cover more overt political ground. It led to some brilliant works. The most affecting is probably Murder in Mississippi — a rendering of the murder of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney. It’s a remarkable piece: half social realism and half neo-romanticism. It doesn’t look much like what people think of as his style:
But he still did profound pieces that were clearly his style. One of my very favorites is, The Problem We All Live With. It renders the first day of school for Ruby Bridges at the once all-white William Frantz Elementary School. She is accompanies by four literally faceless deputy US marshals. Even today, I can’t see it without being affected by it.
Happy birthday Norman Rockwell!