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Norman Rockwell Museum – the Berkshires Americana

Norman Rockwell Museum

9 Glendale Road, Route 183
Stockbridge, Massachusetts 01262 – 413.298.4100
http://www.nrm.org/

by Emerson Sandow

There are a number of locations throughout the U.S. that can be thought of as examples of Americana. Each geographical region has its cities or counties that exemplify its history and long-range character and when one has the opportunity to visit such places,  we can gain a deeper insight into our national personality. One such area is known as “the Berkshires” in Western Massachusetts, between Albany, New York and Springfield, Mass, approximately. Because of the high degree of historical import, the Berkshires are a very rich representation of both early British settlement activity and Revolutionary War activity. The coach road between Albany and Boston, which passed right through the heart of the Berkshires, saw many of the Founding Fathers going to and fro in secrecy and stealth, to bring about the new nation at the risk of death.

It is only fitting that one of the greatest artists to represent Americana should have lived and worked for much of his life in the Berkshires. Norman Rockwell easily holds the title “Illustrator of America”, having painted everything in our history from images of War and from the 1950s to integration of the late 1960s.

Rockwell lived in the village of Stockbridge, also home to the legendary “Alice’s Restaurant” of Arlo Guthrie song fame. Rockwell even painted Stockbridge in a Christmastime diorama in the late 1960s. The backdrops and live models for many of his illustrations were locales and folk from Stockbridge and neighboring small towns as wells

Today, The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, offers a permanent monument to the great illustrator who continues to inspire and tickle so many with his insightful paintings of our ways of Life.

The Museum is the site of many student tours from 1st grade to graduate students and the staff will craft each program to reflect the needs of the touring group! They are able to do this because they have the flexibility of a small museum and can offer personalized service, so to speak. Therefore, they also offer an Elders Service tour and a college tour

Tom Daly, who used to see Mr. Rockwell around town, is the Education Curator at the Rockwell Museum. Mr. Daly explained that younger students don’t have to know who Rockwell is, they can still relate to the images – boys throwing a baseball; another pushing a baby carriage or coming home from summer camp – which are timeless and symbolic of every part of the country.

In its tours, the staff tries to teach the children how to look at art — whether it is Rockwell or someone at the other end of the art spectrum such as Jackson Pollack, finding details, finding colors, how the painting is set up, so the next time they see a piece of art they know more about what they are looking at. Tom told me that younger children are used to looking and even if they don’t have the language skills to relate what they are seeing, they do “see”. For older students who have art experience, the museum staff goes into more detailed technical tours, showing how Rockwell worked from sketch to charcoal to finished piece, for instance.

Mr. Rockwell was always trying to tell a story in his art and often the story is in the eyes of the beholder. He was gifted in being able to communicate with all sorts of people. Of course, his work also helps adults to reminisce about moments of their own lives as well.

Groups who wish to tour the museum will typically call a month or so beforehand and the staff spends 80-90 minutes discussing their needs and wants from the tour. Many homeschooling tour groups  are looking at specific segments of history or art.

On the website, www.nrm.org, can be found the teacher packet for use in preparing to come to the museum and being well-prepared for what they are going to see and hear – along with a sense of who Rockwell was and what work he did. The museum staff also learns from the groups. For instance, one wanted to look at only military uniforms in the paintings. It was an elementary school studying U.S. military history and because his work spans 70 years of the 1900s, they were even able to see views from the Revolutionary War to the Korean War.

There have been tours on Transportation, Civil Rights, and some with a more religious focus. Rockwell painted a Golden War image, the Four Freedoms, while “The Problem We All Live With”, “New Kids in the Neighborhood” and the “Golden Rule” image were all Civil Rights themes and another one — “Murder in Mississippi” which is for high school children. This reflects the experiences of the students who went down south to register vote. As Tom stated, “Rockwell was more than boys and puppies.”

The more research that the group leader does the more they can get out of their tour at the Rockwell Museum. Tom puts together programss to encourage people to come to the museum. He had a JFK impersonator come in and speak on many issues Rockwell painted because he painted a number of Kennedy images. Tom, who grew up in the Berkshires, has been at the Rockwell for 10 years and brings that wealth of knowledge and the surrounding area to bear in his work. Please visit the website, www.nrm.org and include a tour of the Rockwell Museum in your next visit near upstate New York or New England. You and your children will enjoy yourselves and learn in a beautiful part of the country. ES

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