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 One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs