Thursday July 7, 2011

STOCKBRIDGE -- Painted by Norman Rockwell, an iconic image commenting on racial intolerance now hangs outside of the Oval Office.

"The Problem We All Live With" is on loan to the White House from the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge through Oct. 31 in honor of the 50th-anniversary year of Ruby Bridges' integration of a New Orleans elementary school on Nov. 14, 1960.

Her historic walk to the school as a 6-year-old inspired Rockwell's oil painting of a young girl flanked by federal marshals, offset by a thrown tomato and a racial slur on the wall behind her.

It is the first work the museum has lent to the White House. Bridges now is 56, goes by the name Ruby Bridges Hall, and is a trustee at the Rockwell.

Stephanie Plunkett, the museum's deputy director and chief curator, said the painting was a turning point in Rockwell's career toward more intense subject matter.

"Moving in to the civil rights era, he felt extremely strong about the equality of all people," Plunkett said.

William G. Allman, the White House's curator, requested the painting after being contacted by museum officials.

Bridges' walk took place six years after the 1954 United States Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which declared public-school segregation laws unconstitutional.

Bridges Hall said Rockwell's painting, when she finally saw it years later, helped her realize the importance of her actions as a young girl.

"Here was a man who had been doing lots of work -- painting family images -- and all of the sudden decided, 'This is what I am going to do -- it's wrong and I'm going to say that it's wrong.' "