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The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation has opened a new exhibition focused on painter Norman Rockwell’s most famous works. It’s called “Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt and the Four Freedoms.”
Rockwell is one of the most well-known U.S. artists and his work has literally painted a picture of 20th century American politics.
Organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum, the exhibit features a wide variety of Rockwell’s paintings he did based off a 1941 speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
That speech inspired sculptures, music and other works of art.
More than anything else, however, Rockwell’s paintings remain a cornerstone representation of Franklin’s speech and its big ideas.
WDET’s Ryan Patrick Hooper speaks with Jim McCabe, the Henry Ford’s collections manager, about the Rockwell exhibition.
McCabe says the exhibit seeks to explain “how the big ideas of the Four Freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear—became communicated in various ways and then most successfully by Norman Rockwell through a series of paintings that he did that were printed in a series of issues in the Saturday Evening Post in 1943.”
Rockwell’s paintings from the mid 20th century are impactful, but they’re also extremely white and represent freedoms that were almost exclusively available to white Americans. For example, one of the most iconic paintings from this series—”Freedom from Want,” depicts a white family surrounding a dinner table.
In the final section of the “Enduring Ideals” exhibit, contemporary artists reimagine some of Rockwell’s famous, all-white paintings.
Later on, Rockwell’s work would transform and make light of the challenges faced by a more diverse set of Americans.
“The Problem We All Live With” depicts Ruby Bridges being escorted to school by U.S. Marshals in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and school integration.
“(Rockwell is) taking on much bigger ideas about a changing world, a changing country.” McCabe says about the painting. “It’s incredibly powerful.”