Tuesday, November 4, 2008

John Matuszak reports: Illustrator Norman Rockwell exhibit.

Samuel Harper is ready to greet visitors in the persona of the famous artist as part of "Rockwell's America," a three-dimensional exhibit at the Ohio Historical Center.

"Rockwell's America" comes to life at Ohio Historical Center

Over the course of his long career, artist Norman Rockwell brought to life the changing American scene, from small-town Main Street to the civil rights struggle.

Now, the Ohio Historical Center has brought to life many of these iconic scenes in "Rockwell's America," an interactive and three-dimensional exhibit open now through March 1.

In addition to a gallery with all 322 of Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post covers, visitors will walk through lifesize re-creations of these illustrations and encounter real-life actors portraying figures such as Rosie the Riveter.

"This is a great way to get a feel for what was going on through the 20th century," explained Connie Bodner, director of educational and interpretive services at the Ohio Historical Center.

Bodner and her team worked for over a year to prepare for the exhibit created by the Becker Group of Baltimore. Columbus is the only tour location to include live performers that bring an added touch of realism to the exhibit.

One of those is Samuel Harper, who greets visitors in the persona of Rockwell himself in the artist's studio.

With a striking resemblance to Rockwell, and an intimate knowledge of his life and work, Harper provides insights into the illustrator's methods and accomplishments.

Rockwell drew his models from "the people next door, down-to-earth people," according to Harper. And he had a few tricks up his sleeve to give them the right look.

For "The Babysitter" he created the harried helper by having model Lucy Holden stick her head out of the window of a moving car, making a mess out of her immaculate hair.

Realism was the goal for Rockwell, who could spend weeks on one illustration, Harper said.

From the studio visitors step through the frame and into Rockwell's world, where children frolic and older folks doze around the ol' fishing hole.

Nearby, Mike Follin is polishing up a Model T Ford, and if you ask him, he'll tell you about the hair-raising speed of 15 miles per hour these newfangled machines can reach.

A stroll down Main Street will take you into the soda shop of "After the Prom" or the telephone operator's office seen in "The Gossips." The switchboard operator is there to telegaph the latest rumors, and when the phone rings you can pick it up to find out who is on the other end of the party line.

Rockwell's everyman World War II GI, Dobie Gillis, is represented, as is Rosie the Riveter, who talks about the contributions of women to the war effort. Also exhibited are the artist's "Four Freedoms" paintings that articulated the country's values and raised millions in war bonds.

A changing world and Rockwell's interest in responding to it is depicted in "The Problem We All Live With," as 9-year-old Ruby Bridges is escorted by federal marshals into a previously segregated school. The ugly reaction of the unseen mob is evidenced by a splattered tomato and racist scrawlings on the wall.

The final scene is "Home for the Holidays," a cozy living room where a pianist invites carolers to sing along.

One of the main goals of the exhibit is the promote "inter-generational communication," Bodner said. Many of Rockwell's paintings showed grandparents and grandchildren spending time together, and the organizers hope that this is an aspect of the artist's work that comes to life.

Reported by John Matuszak for Bexley Public Radio.

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Design is copyright 2008. All rights reserved. Bexley Public Radio Foundation. Text is copyright 2008. All rights reserved. John Matuszak.

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