Illustrator shapes 'massacre' parody of Rockwell's 'Shuffleton's Barbershop'

Illustrator Leonardo Quiles of Dalton created "Shaftsbury Text Battle" as a commentary related to plans by the Berkshire Museum to sell the work that inspired it - "Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop" - at auction.

PITTSFIELD — Leonardo Quiles says he wanted to "meditate" on the work of Norman Rockwell.

So he did what generations of artists have done before him. He copied works by the acclaimed painter, choosing two that are poised to be sold by the Berkshire Museum.

Then Quiles, an illustrator and film animator, went a little further — just as another local artist did in August — to comment on things happening outside these famous frames.

In his version of "Shuffleton's Barbershop," the back room of musicians becomes the scene of a massacre. And his take on "Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop" puts phones in the hands of the tradesmen, not hammers.

"It's really just an exercise to spend time with Norman Rockwell," Quiles said of his pieces, speaking as two prints of his works gathered silent auction bids at a recent fundraiser. "What better way to study a painting?"

This is the second time a local artist has played off Rockwell originals to comment on the museum's decision to sell 40 works from its collection to fund a renovation and to build its endowment — a move that faces court hearings this week and a first auction Nov. 13.

In August, graphic designer Mark Tomasi used elements of famous Rockwell works to lampoon opponents of the art sale.

"As much as I see the opposition's side of the story," Tomasi told The Eagle in August, "the Berkshire Museum is in a major financial crisis where the staff and sustainability of the institution outweighs the assets."

Tomasi's images, grouped under a #museumgate hashtag, can be seen on his Facebook page. He calls them "digital darts" and means both to puncture what he seems as hyperbole — and to inject humor in a hotly debated art sale.

In playing off visual references, Quiles also pays homage to Rockwell, but with a different intent.

While Tomasi made light of objections to the art sale, Quiles said it concerns him. He sides with keeping the Rockwell works, and other pieces owned by the museum, in Pittsfield.

"Lose your history, you lose your soul, your connection to your place," Quiles wrote, when asked by a founder of Save the Art-Save the Museum to say something about the pieces he donated to a fundraiser last week.

"The Berkshires and the Crane family and the Norman Rockwell legacy are all part of our story. No science museum, no museum of technology can replace that," Quiles wrote, referring to renovation plans outlined by the museum. "We cannot have one without the other."

Because Quiles works in visual media, he has a special connection to Rockwell.

"His visual storytelling skills are unsurpassed," he said of the artist.

The hours he spent studying the two paintings, while creating his parodies, only enhanced that sense for Quiles, who studied illustration at Parsons School of Design and is working on a master of fine arts degree at the University of Hartford. He teaches animation at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams.

Quiles manages his own Dalton studio and is working on a graphic memoir of growing up in Brooklyn.

In one illustration, Quiles transforms two men's vigorous anvil competition of "Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop" into a social media slugfest. The leather-aproned blacksmiths in this version, which he calls "Shaftsbury Text Battle," abandon their hammers and tongs to punch out messages.

The piece seems to offer a commentary on the art sale dispute and our age in general.

In his "Museum Massacre" parody, Quiles unloads, visually, in the barbershop's back room.

Instead of the distant focal point Rockwell created of musicians playing, Quiles fills the small patch of floor visible with bodies, evidence of a drive-by killing spree.

"It was the scene of a crime," Quiles said of his re-imagining of the work, which can be seen on his website.

In his work's lower-left corner, the partial words "SHIRE" and "SEUM" suggest references to the Berkshire Museum, instead of Rockwell's label with part of the barbershop proprietor's name.

In the Rockwell work, a flag on a piece of paper near the center of the work flies at half-staff to commemorate D-Day, the Allied invasion of France in 1944. In Quiles' work, a flag is still lowered, but the image is accompanied by the words, "How could you" — with the implied question mark concealed, as it was in Rockwell's painting, by a man's hat.

A barber chair sits empty in the original and the parody. While that captured the calm of after-hours moments in the Rockwell work, the effect is entirely different in what Quiles depicts.

Quiles says he believes that what's afoot with the museum and the art auction will echo for years.

"As an educator, I am convinced this issue of monetizing art collections, and the steps the Berkshire Museum is taking to raise funds for their new vision, will be in every 'Arts Management' curriculum ad infinitum," he said, "for better of for worse."

Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass.