Norman Rockwell revisited

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On one side of the room is an old-time radio, softly playing some of Rockwell's favorite classical music. A few feet to the left of the radio is a small work desk on which the famed illustrator attended to the more mundane aspects of art: Paying bills, writing letters, penning memos.

Then there is the canvas, set in the middle of the room, with one of Rockwell's famous smoking pipes resting nearby. The painting on the canvas is Rockwell's iconic illustration, "The Golden Rule," showing people of various races, religions and ethnicities. Inscribed across the image, in gold, is the phrase, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

The studio is as near an exact recreation of Rockwell's studio as possible, according to Stephanie Plunkett, deputy director and chief curator of the museum.

"What you're seeing here is not much of an exaggeration," said Plunkett.

Even the room's cleanliness is historically accurate; Rockwell often swept his studio four or five times a day to keep it pristine.

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The studio, located on the campus of the Norman Rockwell Museum, opened Friday to the public.

"By the early 1960s, Norman Rockwell was widely recognized as being among America's preeminent painters, whose works captured with uncanny detail moments of universal feeling found in everyday life," explained Laurie Norton Moffatt, director and CEO of the museum. "Beginning in 1960, on his return from travels that took him to countries in Africa, Asia and Europe, Rockwell started turning his attention to issues of civil and human rights."

The re-created studio, said Moffatt, "will provide insights into his working environment, influences and inspirations at a pivotal moment in his career and American society and culture."

"The Golden Rule" was one of Rockwell's last paintings for the Saturday Evening Post, said Moffatt. It represents, she noted, a significant turning point in his work. Rockwell's subsequent illustrations for Look magazine and other publications revealed a more serious-minded, socially conscious artist observing more closely the issues of that era, including civil rights, the Vietnam War and the exploration of space.

The studio was originally a carriage barn on the property of a house Rockwell bought in 1957 on South Main Street in Stockbridge. Rockwell hired renowned Shaker-trained craftsman Ejner Handberg to remodel the structure. The artist later enlarged the building's north windows to provide more light and subsequently added a storage room. He later described the space as his "best studio yet."

The museum will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, said Plunkett. The restored studio was made possible by Project NORMAN, an exhaustive art and archival cataloging of everything Rockwellian, according to Corry Katzenberg, curator of the archival collection. Begun in 2003, the project has digitized more than 40,000 works of art, photos, negatives and records of the more than 200,000 items in the museum's collection. The museum's curators used a host of photos from ProjectNORMAN to restore the look of the 1960 studio.


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