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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

America's Most Exotic Presidential Pets

From alligators to bears, the White House has been home to some unusual presidential pets over the years 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs