Norman Rockwell with actors Mike Connors and Stephanie Powers on the set of "Stagecoach."

Norman Rockwell with actors Mike Connors and Stephanie Powers on the set of "Stagecoach," 1966. Photographer unknown. Licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL.

It’s the summer blockbuster season… and we’re not talking movies (except we are). Earlier this month The Smithsonian American Art Museum opened Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, an exhibition featuring original Rockwell artwork owned by the two famed movie directors; both Lucas and Spielberg claim to have learned a great deal about storytelling from Rockwell, and the illustrator continues to be an influence (see Spielberg’s 1987 film Empire of the Sun, for a fairly literal recreation of Rockwell’s Freedom From Fear during a key scene). The exhibition has been getting rave reviews and high attendance, and once again has the nation talking about Rockwell’s unique gift as a visual communicator.

At the same time, Norman Rockwell Museum has opened Rockwell and the Movies, an installation which showcases illustrations the artist created for the motion picture industry. Museum visitors have been overheard enjoying the opportunity to identify old movie actors, and learn about Rockwell’s connections to Hollywood during the course of his long career (he even appeared in a small cameo role in the remake of Stagecoach, which he created movie illustrations for back in 1966).

In addition to the work Rockwell created for the movies, the artist was frequently called on by celebrities to have their portraits painted (many in Stockbridge still recall the sight of John Wayne traipsing around town with his six guns!); Rockwell even enjoyed the notion of himself as a “celebrity,” and was known to insert his trademark pipe when people had trouble recognizing him in public. It was a different time though, and Rockwell actually took his cue from the Golden Age illustrators who proceeded him (J.C. Leyendecker, Howard Pyle, and Maxfield Parrish, were all considered celebrities in the early twentieth century). Considering contemporary filmmaking, Rockwell’s work methods could even be compared to the modern-day movie director—he used props, models, and camera assistants for photos he would take to use as reference for his artwork. He also directed each scene to get just the right expressions he was looking for from his subjects (similar to Steven Spielberg, he had a knack for working with children).

Learn more about the fascinating connections between Norman Rockwell and Hollywood; Rockwell and the Movies curator Joyce K. Schiller, Ph.D. will be speaking more about the subject at the Museum tonight, July 15, during the summer American Storytellers lecture series (the program begins at 5:30 p.m.). Dr. Schiller will also be visiting the Smithsonian on Tuesday, July 20, to conduct an evening lecture titled “Norman Rockwell: Life As He Wanted it to Be.” Smithsonian American Art Museum Senior Curator Virginia Mecklenberg will return the favor, by presenting the lecture “Telling Stories: Rockwell Art from the Collections of Lucas and Spielberg” at Norman Rockwell Museum on Thursday, August 26 at 5:30 p.m.

Related links:

CBS Sunday Morning:

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Los Angeles Times:,0,1684516.story

Berkshire Eagle:

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