As Rockwell's 'Four Freedoms' roll into DC, Neal opens dialogue on the art

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, right, is joined by Laurie Norton Moffatt, director of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, and U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Albany, N.Y., on Tuesday, in front of Rockwell's "Freedom of Speech" painting at the House Ways and Means room at the Capitol in Washington.

WASHINGTON — The works of Norman Rockwell show an America that is striving to be better — and America isn't done striving.

So says U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, who was preparing to host a reception Tuesday in the U.S. Capitol for members of Congress. The event was to mark the arrival this week of the touring seven-city exhibition "Enduring Ideals," which focuses on works inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's four freedoms.

"I think that the words of Roosevelt and the imagery of Rockwell as it relates to the four freedoms shows an extraordinary story about aspiration," Neal told The Eagle by phone Tuesday. "It was an America that he hoped for, a world that he hoped for."

Roosevelt articulated the four freedoms — freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear — as fundamental principles during his 1941 State of the Union address. Rockwell painted iconic scenes devoted to the freedoms, which were published on consecutive covers of The Saturday Evening Post in 1943.

Those paintings, and works by other artists that capture expressions of freedom, will be on display through April 29 at The George Washington University in Washington.

But representatives of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge are bringing full-sized replica of the "Four Freedoms" works and accompanying virtual reality technology to the reception. The technology allows viewers to step into each painting and experience speeches and other experiences that were inspired by FDR's four freedoms, according to Laurie Norton Moffatt, director of the Stockbridge museum.

"I look at this and think that these freedoms are ideals that everyone can rally around," Norton Moffatt said. "The idea that Americans can come together around a set of ideals ... is a reminder that there are things that we can all agree on as Americans."

To initiate dialogue on the Rockwell art and its subject, Neal invited every congressman and congresswoman to the reception in the House Ways and Means room. Among the guests expected to participate Tuesday was U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.

Norton Moffatt said she is excited for the three-month exhibition at the university, where departments and students will develop programming related to the "Four Freedoms" paintings that the Norman Rockwell Museum can reuse elsewhere.

For example, the university's Center for Religious Freedom will take on programming related to the freedom of worship, Norton Moffatt said.

After the spring semester comes to a close, the exhibition will travel to Normandy, France, for the 75th anniversary of D-Day, which Norton Moffatt expects to be a solemn occasion.

While the Norman Rockwell Museum is without the works for the time being, the exhibition will have its local debut in 2020.

"It's a treasure that we have in a lot of ways," Neal said. "A very important part of Americana, the Rockwell Museum."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.