Thursday February 10, 2011

STOCKBRIDGE -- A two-year, $144,240 matching grant from the Save America's Treasures program in Washington, D.C., will restore a major treasure trove of artwork at the Norman Rockwell Museum.

The grant, in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), was announced Wednesday. It will enable the Williamstown Arts Conservation Center, based on The Clark's campus, to restore vintage drawings, posters and photographs -- some from the Rockwell Museum's archives and others gifted by donors.

"It's a very significant grant," said Rockwell Museum Director and CEO Laurie Norton Moffatt in a telephone interview. "It will allow us to preserve and protect collections we haven't been able to afford to take care of. His drawings are like jigsaw puzzles, and it's so exciting for us to have these treated, preserved and prepared for exhibition."

Moffatt called the grant especially timely because "the situation is very grim at the moment for ongoing public support of art and culture in our society. The NEA is under threat."

She cited the drawings to be restored as a reflection of how the artist worked.

"The drawing stage was very important and essential to the creative process and to the finished work," she said. "To see some of the ideas he was working on will reveal a whole different facet of Rockwell's work that will add to the magnificent collections we already have."

The grant allows 36 posters, photographs and drawings to be stabilized and conserved.

According to Chief Curator and Deputy Director Stephanie Haboush Plunkett, the drawings will be ready for exhibition by next January, while the posters and photos will be available after Jan. 1, 2013.

"There's a lot of concern among arts organizations that these important, federally funded grants will disappear," Plunkett said.

The museum will be able to match the grant from its operating funds and from in-kind services donated by staffers, she said.

Among the works to be restored is a set of recently acquired "Four Freedoms" war bond posters from 1943. These were displayed in factories during World War II to boost morale and production for the war effort.

A rare World War I Navy recruiting poster illustrated by Howard Chandler Christy, an iconic image known as the "Christy Girl," also will be preserved.

Ten drawings that Rockwell used as a foundation for his oil paintings are to be restored. They include two 1950 drawings for "Casey at Bat" and preliminary studies for "The Soda Jerk," "Paul Bunyan," and a 1975 reference sketch for the artist's final, unfinished painting, "John Sergeant and Chief Konkapot."

The drawings have never been exhibited, Plunkett said, because in some cases they're in pieces. "If he didn't like a piece of the drawing, Rockwell would cut it out, tape it to a larger piece of paper, and redraw," she said. "In some cases, drawings were rolled and pieces have become loose and detached."

A group of 19 historically significant photographs stored in the museum's archives also will be conserved, including a newly discovered 1925 photo of Rockwell with one of his role models, illustrator J.C. Leyendecker, taken in New Rochelle, N.Y., where they were neighbors.

In a prepared statement, U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., praised Rockwell's paintings for "capturing an ideal of the American way of life. This investment will help the museum keep his work alive to share and study for generations to come."

Moffatt, asked to reflect on Rockwell's up-and-down stature over the years, declared that "over time, he will take his place in the pantheon of America's greatest painters like John Singer Sargent and Georgia O'Keeffe. I see Rockwell in that same lineage."