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

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Museum enthusiasts take a closer look at Maggie Meiners’ “Freedom of Religion,” an updated version of the Norman Rockwell original. (MONTCLAIR MUSEUM OF ART)

Part of the power of Reimagining Rockwell at the Montclair Art Museum it is because he forces us to confront the narrowness of the representation in many of his paintings. But it’s also important to note that the narrow representations of Americans in Norman Rockwell’s work were not just the result of “the times” or his blind views. It was a formal policy.

Currently on display at the Rockwell Museum in Massachusetts, a letter from the Rockwell 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 Saturday Evening Post’s long-standing policy, as the editor sternly reminded Rockwell in a letter on display in the museum, was that no African-American could appear in an 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 the first day of Ruby Bridges at an allWhite school in New Orleans and Klan killings of three civil rights leaders in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Keith hefner
Montclair


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