The end of the summer has brought much cause for reflection here at Norman Rockwell Museum— important milestones, the passing of former colleagues and friends, and devastating storms, which have forced our neighbors to rebuild and start again.
We would be remiss in not also reflecting on the tragic events that took place ten years ago, on September 11, 2001. A decade later our nation still struggles to find peace and solace from the events that unfolded on that otherwise clear, late summer day.
Norman Rockwell Museum Director/CEO Laurie Norton Moffatt wrote the following essay in the days following the event. These words, and comforting nature of Norman Rockwell’s paintings, seem as relevant now as they did ten years ago:
Norman Rockwell Offers Hope – 11 September 2001
Who among us will not remember where we were on the morning of 11 September?
As the monumental horror of the terrorist attacks unfolded, I was meeting official guests to tour the galleries of the Norman Rockwell Museum. As we wrestled with our shock and dismay and acknowledged our awkwardness with forging on with the routine and mundane of our lives while tragedy rocked our world, we decided to continue with their scheduled visit to the Museum. We had to spend our hours somewhere – why not try to carry on.
Most of our early morning visitors to the museum were yet unaware of the plane crashes that had reduced to rubble the World Trade Center, and Pentagon, claiming thousands of lives. They walked around with their audio tour headsets, oblivious to the breaking newscasts, as they immersed themselves in Norman Rockwell’s world. The blue-sky, late summer day was soulfully beautiful. The pastoral beauty of the Berkshires was sublime. It was incomprehensible that a tragedy of this magnitude was happening in America. The experience of being surrounded by Norman Rockwell’s world at such a moment was surreal. I commented to my guests that Norman Rockwell’s America seemed to be disappearing forever at the very moment we were looking at it.
Our conversation began formally and professionally. As we discussed Norman Rockwell’s continuing appeal and the recent successes of the national tour of his paintings we harbored a sense that art and museums seemed non-essential in a universe that was being shattered. Images of the routines and pastimes of our daily lives: baseball, proms, barbershop quartets and movie actors, children playing, pastoral village scenes and carefree day-dreamers, somehow seemed frivolous weighed against the magnitude of sorrow that was descending on the world.
As the reports continued to come in, visitors still oblivious to the carnage, we found ourselves standing in front of Saying Grace, the respectful picture of the grandmother praying with her grandson in the train station diner. Hadn’t we just prayed quietly, our arms entwined in a prayer circle, in one corner of the galleries for the loss of lives and pain of loved ones, and for the wisdom of our leaders who would have to respond to such attacks? The poignancy and relevance of Norman Rockwell’s picture was not lost upon us. Suddenly Rockwell’s imagery seemed immediate and contemporary, timeless and universal, offering strength and resolve to continue to believe in goodness.
Around the corner we stopped to view the Golden Rule; “Do Unto Others as you Would have them Do Unto You,” reads the stenciled lettering on the painting of a pyramid of portraits of persons of every faith from around the world. A reminder that to inflict additional violence and pain acted out of our anger and rage would result only in continued terror and pain. Violence and revenge would never be a path to peace.
We arrived at The Four Freedoms, painted during World War II to try to make sense of the war that was being waged all over the world in defense of democracy and Freedom. Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Worship, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear. Our safety and security had been violated. It seemed we no longer could live free from fear. These were the very principles of democracy upon which our nation was founded. The very philosophical foundations that we must not let be rocked, even as the foundations of our strongest economic and political symbols were being destroyed. We could choose to uphold these beliefs. We must choose to uphold them.
Rosie the Riveter rose before us with Rosie’s super human strength and power in the face of evil, reminding us of the power of each of us individually to rise to the occasion and step into new roles to serve our nation and our communities during times of need. The Problem We All Live With captured the courage and innocence of youth to stand up quietly, but boldly and proudly to injustice and prejudice. Reminding us to put our faith in the future of our young people and continue our work to make the world a better place, even when our confidence and security has been shattered by such senseless and cowardly hatred.What a privilege to stand in Norman Rockwell’s galleries to be reminded of our strength as individuals. To know that the ordinary moments of our lives remain important in the face of the incomprehensible. To believe that the ideals upon which our country is built–democracy and freedom, tolerance and respect, kindness and dignity–are strong enough to carry us through this latest crisis. To help us find meaning in a world that seems to have lost all sense of civilization. To believe in and draw strength from our communities and neighborhoods, a time and opportunity for our global village to find unity and choose peace.
As we left the galleries that had offered such spiritual sanctuary, a friend dashed into the Museum to pick up a print of The Golden Rule. We hugged, each of our faces wrought with grief, and she said she was taking the print to her college in New York where she serves as chaplain to her students. They needed her, and she thought Norman Rockwell’s painting might help. Another friend reminded me later that night, it is more important than ever to do good work. As we try to make sense of the incomprehensible, and stand strong in the face of such evil, which threatens to shatter our beliefs as it destroys our lives and property, there is a role for our artistic and cultural heritage to help us heal.
Laurie Norton Moffatt
Director/CEO Norman Rockwell Museum