The Golden Rule: Norman Rockwell’s America – Lecture, Reception and Book Signing

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Date(s) - Thursday, October 2, 2014
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

First Unitarian Church of Dallas


Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America by Author Jane Allen Petrick

Lecture, Reception and Book Signing

Norman Rockwell’s America was not all white. As early as 1936, Rockwell was portraying people of color with empathy and a dignity often denied them at the time. And he created these portraits from live models.

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America unfolds, for the first time, the stories of the Asian, African, and Native Americans who modeled for Norman Rockwell. These people of color, though often hidden in plain sight, are present throughout Rockwell’s more than 4000 illustrations. People like the John Lane family, Navajos poignantly depicted in the virtually unknown Norman Rockwell painting, “Glen Canyon Dam.” People like Isaac Crawford, a ten-year-old black Boy Scout who helped Rockwell finally integrate the Boy Scout calendar.

In this enlightening narrative, Jane Allen Petrick explores what motivated Norman Rockwell to slip people of color “into the picture” in the first place. And in so doing, she persuasively documents the famous illustrator’s deep commitment to and pointed portrayals of multiculturalism, portrayals that up to now have been, as Rockwell biographer Laura Claridge puts it, “bizarrely neglected”.

 Norman Rockwell:

 Do unto others…” For most Americans in 1961, the familiar adage really meant, “Do unto others who look like you.” Norman Rockwell, in his painting, Golden Rule, challenged that hypocrisy and laid the truth of “the other” smack dab in the middle of America’s coffee tables.

Golden Rule appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on April 1, 1961. The social and political climate (JFK had just been inaugurated, Amnesty International had just been organized, and the Saturday Evening Post finally agreed to let colored people appear on a cover) was perfect for the “big picture” declaration of tolerance Rockwell had been trying to make for decades.

Norman Rockwell detested bigotry. Despite what seemed to be America’s need to petrify him within a cult of innocence, the illustrator had been making small jabs against social injustice throughout his career. He placed a multi-ethnic group in the Four Freedoms poster commissioned by the US government in 1943.

In 1953, Rockwell began creating a tribute to the UN. The mural displayed the world’s peoples amassed behind UN delegates, “waiting for the delegates to straighten out the world, so that they might live in peace and without fear.” The artist used actual delegates as models for the work, and, in that tumultuous post-Stalin period, Russian delegates changed often. It was impossible for Rockwell to keep up, and he abandoned the project.

Then, in 1961, Rockwell tried again. The Post accepted “Do unto others” as a cover concept, and the illustrator resurrected his “peoples of the world” theme. But the models for Golden Rule were all local people, Rockwell’s friends, acquaintances, or neighbors, a fact that reveals the panorama of “others” who were a part of Rockwell’s life.

 In Golden Rule, people are no longer waiting for world leaders to straighten out anything. Instead, Rockwell has each of us looking directly into the faces of all of us: young, old, black, white, brown, male, female. We are each “the other,” responsible to each other for the world we create. Or, in the parlance of today, “We are the 99 percent.”

Mission statement for The Thanks-Giving Foundation:

Promote the spirit and unifying value of giving thanks in our community, nation and the world

Interfaith Council of The Thanks-Giving Foundation:

Mission: Explore unity and diversity among faith traditions

Vision: Unite people of different faiths in gratitude


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