Hanging on the wall of the Norman Rockwell Museum in the Berkshire Hills is a painting of a pensive boy with barn-door ears squirming in an armchair while his father counts off the points of a lecture on his fingers. Framing the scene are a sleeping mother cat and her two rambunctious kittens; across the father’s knee is a book titled The Facts of Life. As visitors absorb these tiny details, the story of the painting slowly comes into focus, and they understand why everyone looks so awkward.
Rockwell’s nostalgic portrayals of American life made him a pariah in the art world but a hero to everyone else. His work chronicled one of the most tumultuous periods in American history–from the introduction of the automobile to the moon landing–and his ability to capture an entire story in a single image made him one of the most effective communicators of his age.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the Norman Rockwell Museum has restored his Stockbridge studio to the way it looked in October 1960, when he created one of his most influential pieces, Golden Rule. Working from a set of highly detailed photos, the curators of the installation, called A Day in the Life, have applied the same attention to detail to their task that Rockwell did to his. From the books on his shelves to the radio in the corner and even the scribbled notes tacked to his wall, they’ve returned every aspect of the room to the way it was at that moment in time, in the hope that the details will provide some greater insight into the artist and his work.
One detail from a slightly later date–the numbers 01262 inscribed on the wall by Rockwell’s phone–already reveals one very human aspect of the painter. For all his ability to capture the American experience in oil on canvas, he still couldn’t remember his own ZIP code.
For a video visit and “Yankee Classic” stories on the artist, go to: Norman Rockwell Studio
Norman Rockwell Museum. 9 Glendale Road (Route 183), Stockbridge, MA. 413-298-4100; nrm.org