News / USA

All-American Artist Inspires Lucas, Spielberg

Leading Hollywood filmmakers take a cue from illustrator Norman Rockwell

Multimedia

Audio

Norman Rockwell is one of the best-known American artists of the 20th century.

His illustrations appeared in advertisements, on calendars and most notably on magazine covers.

Norman Rockwell, First Trip to the Beauty Shop, 1972, oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell, First Trip to the Beauty Shop, 1972, oil on canvas

Rockwell died in 1978. Many Americans collect his art, including two of Hollywood's leading filmmakers. A new exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum showcases works from their collections.

Visual storytelling

The man in the soft felt hat, kneeling by the reclining woman and supporting her with an arm wrapped around her shoulders bears a striking resemblance to a certain fictional archaeologist.

Perhaps the creator of Indiana Jones was inspired by what he saw in the painting.  Peach Crop belongs to producer and director George Lucas. It is one of more than 30 works from his collection in the exhibition "Telling Stories." Other works on display belong to director Steven Spielberg.  

"Both Lucas and Spielberg see Rockwell ultimately not just as an illustrator, not just as a maker of pictures, but a teller of visual stories," says Virginia Mecklenburg, curator of the exhibition.

She says Lucas told her that he felt comfortable from his earliest days in the movie business, because "he already knew how to tell a story visually from having looked at Norman Rockwell's covers."

Rockwell did covers for the Saturday Evening Post for nearly 50 years.

Norman Rockwell in his studio with model Hank Bergmans, about 1970.
Norman Rockwell in his studio with model Hank Bergmans, about 1970.

Some of his pictures illustrated stories inside magazines. But even those that didn't do seem to tell a story:  a family laden with packages arrives for Christmas at grandma and grandpa's; a little girl in the beauty shop gets her first haircut; a girl balances on one leg, holding her foot and glowering at a blushing boy, while another young couple dance in the background.

"One of the things that George Lucas loves about Rockwell is what Rockwell tells us about our culture, about our society, and about who we are as people," Mecklenburg says.  She adds that many of the things he sees in Rockwell's pictures remind him of his own childhood in Modesto, California.

"He said that he grew up in the Norman Rockwell world.  Everything you see in Norman Rockwell pictures, he grew up doing and it was part of his life."

George Lucas and Steven Spielberg on the set of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.' Both filmmakers say Norman Rockwell influenced their storytelling.
George Lucas and Steven Spielberg on the set of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.' Both filmmakers say Norman Rockwell influenced their storytelling.

Rockwell's moral core

Steven Spielberg owns several pictures of Boy Scouts, in part, because he made his first film as a Boy Scout project.  But the curator says, he is also interested in what she calls "the moral core" that can be seen in many of Rockwell's images.  "He also really admires the pictures of the American military.

Spielberg has also collected pictures that remind him of himself, most notably, one titled "And Daniel Boone Comes to Life on the Underwood Portable."  It shows a man at a typewriter and above his head, taking up more than half of the canvas and appearing in a purple cloud, is frontiersman Daniel Boone, wearing his coonskin cap and carrying his long rifle.

Norman Rockwell, And Daniel Boone Comes to Life on the Underwood Portable, 1923, oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell, And Daniel Boone Comes to Life on the Underwood Portable, 1923, oil on canvas

"When he is starting to write a movie, [Spielberg] says he just sits there at the typewriter waiting for a thought bubble to emerge over his head that will finally get his fingers dancing across the keys," Meckelenburg says.  "I think it is also a wonderful demonstration of Rockwell's early fascination with the way movies look.  The whole idea looks like a movie screen.  It looks like a film playing out over the writer's head."

Rockwell in Hollywood

Rockwell spent some time in Hollywood in the 1930s. He painted would-be starlets and movie stars like Gary Cooper.

When it came to creating his illustrations, Mecklenburg says, Rockwell approached the job much like a filmmaker.

"When he selected his models, he had them audition to make sure they could do the facial expressions he wanted, that they could act out the body language he wanted for a particular picture," she says.  He also selected props and costumes, staged the scene lit it and photographed it.  He used the photographs later to create his illustrations

Rockwell's attention to detail created images that still tell stories, decades after they were created, much like the films of two of his biggest fans.  The largest collection of Rockwell images is at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.

You May Like

Video Iran Nuclear Deal Becomes US Campaign Issue

Voters in three crucial battleground states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - overwhelmingly oppose nuclear deal with Iran More

With IS in Coalition Cross-Hairs, al-Qaida's Syria Affiliate Reemerges

Jabhat al-Nusra has rebounded, increasingly casting itself as a critical player in battle for Syria’s future More

Lessons Learned From Katrina, 10 Years Later

FEMA chief Craig Fugate says key changes include better preparation, improved coordination among state, federal assistance agencies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs