In 2013, 'Shuffleton's Barbershop' inspired Hallmark movie
PITTSFIELD — Oh, the stories Shuffleton's must have heard.
In Norman Rockwell's famous 1950 painting, "Shuffleton's Barbershop," the proprietor's worn leather chair sits empty to the left in the middle distance, all the buzz having moved to back room musicians.
That stillness didn't last. In 2013, a movie gave fictional voice to what might have transpired as Shuffleton wielded his scissors, 35 years after the famous artist's death.
And now, four years later, the painting is again drawing notice outside the museum world as the premier offering in a Sotheby's auction.
If a Nov. 13 sale happens, the work could bring a bid of $30 million or more, the auction house estimates. But first, the sale must clear a legal challenge in Berkshire Superior Court — one that pits the Berkshire Museum, the painting's owner, against the Attorney General's Office and other plaintiffs opposed to the deaccession of 40 works.
As befits the artist's legend, small talk at Shuffleton's could leave a big impression.
In the movie, actor Danny Glover plays Charlie Shuffleton. A trailer available online shows an exchange between Glover's Shuffleton and a boy named Trey Cole. As the boy sits draped for his haircut, the two muse about the nature of destiny.
"It all began," the trailer intones, "in the barbershop."
Though the project was first called "They Way Back Home," by the time of its release in spring 2013, the movie embraced every bit of the Rockwell name and aura, with the title: "Norman Rockwell's Shuffleton's Barbershop."
Perhaps not surprisingly for a Hallmark Movie Channel production, that boy grows up to be a troubled young man with family conflicts (thanks, Dad) who leaves his hometown in search of answers.
He finds success as a country music performer. Despite fame and fortune, he feels empty and is drawn home — to his old spiritual center, the barbershop.
All grown up and wearing cowboy hats, the man, played by actor Austin Stowell, learns of Shuffleton's recent death.
Through the movie, some scenes are set inside a barbershop true to the look Rockwell captured in his painting, which was true — painstakingly so — to the original barbershop in East Arlington, Vt. Rockwell based his painting not only on his memories of the place, but on photographs by Gene Pelham.
When the movie came out, it was promoted by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.
"We partnered after the fact," said Jeremy Clowe, the museum's manager of media services. "We promoted it at the time."
The movie wasn't the first Rockwell-Hallmark connection. The artist's Christmas illustrations had long been featured on Hallmark Cards products.
In real life, Rob Shuffleton, not "Charlie," was the barber-musician who played the cello. In the movie, Glover's Shuffleton is partial to the guitar and gives one to his young customer.
Guitar in hand for a hometown concert, the grown-up Cole shares what his journey has taught him.
"Charlie Shuffleton is gone now, but the words he planted brought me home," he tells the crowd.
In another scene, Cole says, "It's the lessons we learn from the past that show us the right path to the future."
That's a question that has countless fans of the museum, and of this work by Rockwell, on the edge of their seats.
But not in front of a screen.
One line voiced in the movie almost seems designed to speak to those who oppose the museum's sale of art: "Money," a character says, "can't make up for not doing what's right."
Larry Parnass can be reached at email@example.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
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