My husband and I toured New England in 2017, visiting six states in seven days. One of the places we were anxious to visit was the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.
For those of you too young to remember, Norman Rockwell was a prolific painter of Americana. He was born in New York in 1897 and died in 1978 in Stockbridge after producing over 4,000 paintings during his lifetime. His paintings graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post for 47 years.
He painted mostly characters in snippets of time, often in a humorous way. You and I would see a scene in real life and not think anything about it, but he had a way of taking a mental picture of that one scene and putting in on canvas. A couple examples that stand out in my mind are the ones with the mom and kids dressed up, with Bible under their arms, marching single-file off to church, while dad slumps down, still in his pajamas, in the easy chair reading the newspaper.
The other one takes place at a truck stop diner. A grandma bows her head to pray while a couple truck drivers, who are sharing her table, look on. That painting is called, “Saying Grace.”
While there are so many of his painting that stand out in my mind, my all-time favorites are a set of paintings called “Four Freedoms” — inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1941 State of the Union address — outlining four basic freedom essentials to all people.
Norman Rockwell painted a series of indelible images that stand among our nation’s most significant cultural icons and constitutional rights: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear.
In “Freedom of Speech,” Rockwell shows a common, blue-collar man standing up in an assembly, perhaps a town hall, stating his opinion. He is surrounded by businessmen and politicians in shirts, ties and suits who are older than him. The idea is that he has a voice in the proceeding as much as they.
In “Freedom of Worship,” there is a conglomeration of different people worshipping God. One is holding a rosery. The others are folding their hands or bowing their head in prayer.
In the painting “Freedom from Want,” a grandma is serving a big plump turkey at Thanksgiving, surrounded by a table of multi-generational people. The table is laden with all kinds of food. One humorous thing about that painting is that Rockwell painted himself into the painting. If you look at the lower right corner, you will see the top half of a man looking in. That’s him!
In the fourth painting, “Freedom from Fear,” you see a mom and dad putting their kids to bed for the night. Mom is tucking them in. The dad is holding a newspaper; the headlines say, “Bombings Kill … Horror Hits …”
I’m sure all parents would like to protect their children from fears of wars or, like when I was a child in the ‘50s, from a cold war. We were at peace, but there was always this fear that our peace could be stopped by someone setting off another atomic bomb or that the communists would take over.
Although I was intrigued by the many Rockwell paintings at the museum, I did not purchase any of the prints. I did, however, buy a sturdy laminated bookmarker of “The Four Freedoms.”
I keep it in my Bible. Every morning I look at it and am thankful to be born in America in the 20th century, but I am saddened that we are losing our freedoms. I often wonder, if we had a modern-day Rockwell, what he would be painting.
Would he be painting about our Four Freedoms? Would he be painting about things that would make us chuckle? Or would he be painting about division in our country that makes us sad?
Rockwell painted those images 80 years ago. Thank God we still have freedom in our country. Let us hold fast those freedoms that Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear may never fade from this land of ours.
Linda Mider is Americanism Chairman of American Legion Auxiliary, Marion Unit 179, Blanchester.