Norman Rockwell could have shown more diversity – if not for the editors (Letter)

Part of the power of Reinventing Rockwell at the Montclair Art Museum it is that she forces us to confront ourselves with the narrowness of representation in many of her paintings. But it’s also important to note that the narrow depictions of Americans in Norman Rockwell’s work weren’t just the result of “the times” or his blind opinions. It was official policy.

Currently on display at the Rockwell Museum in Massachusetts is a letter from Rockwell’s editor to the Saturday Evening Post ordering him to redraw a painting he had submitted with an African American depicted in professional work. Why? The long-standing policy of the Saturday Evening Post, as the editor sternly reminded Rockwell in a letter on display at the museum, was that no African Americans could appear in any illustration except in a submissive role.

The white editors of the Saturday Evening Post knew the power of positive portrayal, and they banned it. Rockwell eventually left Post for Look magazine, where he was able to publish his iconic paintings from day one of Ruby Bridges in an allwWhite school in New Orleans and the Klan killings of three civil right leaders in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Keith Hefner

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