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Friday, April 29, 2011

"American Chronicles: the Art of Norman Rockwell" Draws Crowds, and Emotional Responses

"Going and Coming," Norman Rockwell 1947
       Yesterday afternoon, at the Tacoma Art Museum, I rediscovered and embraced an old friend from my past, one I thought had died and been buried: my own culture.
        The American aesthetic I'd grown up with surrounded me in the 40 or so paintings and 323 original Saturday Evening Post covers in an exhibition titled, "American Chronicles: the Art of Norman Rockwell," running through May 30. For better or worse (and mostly better) we faced each other again, and I had tears in my eyes.
       As much as I appreciate and respect what is now a hallowed word,"diversity," and all the things different cultures bring to our society, I've missed the America of my childhood. In the post WWII era, the hallowed word was still "unity." I hope I will see the day when all these diverse religious, ethnic, political, and philosophical groups will stop suspecting, criticizing, and battling each other. I hope we, as Americans, can come together to rediscover the importance and power of that word.
       A young man whose job title was "Visitor Services Representative" stood near me, observing the reactions of a crowd of mostly baby boomers, and beyond, and I could not stop myself from asking for his thoughts, his own view from across a generation or two. I felt pleased, and somewhat relieved, to discover how grateful he felt for the opportunity to see this exhibition and get a better sense of America's past.
       "People come up and tell me stories of their childhood and the memories these images bring back," he said. "It sets up a context for that period of time." He spoke of how his eyes had been opened to aspects of daily life in an earlier America, things most in his generation remain unaware of as they live in their own present. I told him he was lucky to learn these things, and that he would be a more deeply aware and thoughtful citizen for the experience. He believed me. He also pointed out guest books, where visitors could record their feelings, thoughts, and memories.

"Freedom of Speech," Norman Rockwell 1943
       Norman Rockwell's career spanned 65 years and produced around 4,000 works of art. Like our nation itself, he grew and changed. An optimist by nature, he is usually remembered for his warmly nostalgic, funny, and charming images of a mostly white, middle class, happy society. Some we've all seen a million times. Others were new to me.
        But don't think of his art as simply bucolic. Serious issues, like racism, civil rights, and the war in Vietnam ate away at him. He had always used his talent for art's most noble purpose, to make people think, but as time went on, he more urgently challenged the hearts and minds of Americans.
       He painted "Murder in Mississippi" to illustrate an article titled Southern Justice, written by Charles Morgan Jr. for Look magazine and published in 1965. It shows, with ugly realism, the slayings of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney in Philadelphia, Mississippi. In 1963, he painted "The Problem We All Live With." In it, a lone little black girl is shown on her way to school, escorted by bodyguards. It was inspired by six-year-old Ruby Bridges, whose attendance at a previously all-white school was a milestone in the era of school desegregation. Now, as an adult who dedicates her life to fighting racism, Bridges will visit the art museum on May 21 to tell her story. In his own way, Norman Rockwell helped to make this visit possible.
        Don't miss "American Chronicles." If we share the same culture, I promise it will take you back in time. If we don't, I promise it will educate you. In any case, I hope this trip to the past will help take us forward into a more unified and humane future.

Images shown in this article were provided by the Tacoma Art Museum, to be used only in conjunction with promotion of this exhibition. These works are part of the permanent collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum and are licensed by the Curtis Publishing Co.

Note: You can read another  review of the exhibition in my arts column on University Place Patch. Be sure to check the website of the Tacoma Art Museum for information on this exhibition and related events, including the lecture by Ruby Bridges.

Copyright 2011, by Candace J. Brown

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Book Recommendation and Video for Earth Day 2011

Theodore Roosevelt would have loved Earth Day, to a point. Unlike most of us who just "talk the talk," he would have spent this day actively doing something about saving wilderness or wildlife or fighting against powerful extraction industries that ravage the land out of greed.

I am reading Douglas Brinkley's latest book, "The Quiet World - Saving Alaska's Wilderness Kingdom 1879-1960" and now I realize, with a sad heart, how little has changed since the end of the 19th century when politicians and businessmen who had never even seen Alaska pictured it as a frigid wasteland with nothing to offer but natural resources for the taking, to make men rich. And men did get rich, first through fish and timber, then gold and oil. I'm sorry to say that mining interests based in Tacoma at that time played a big part in the devastation.

Roosevelt worked tirelessly for conservation and in spite of the obstacles of battle, accomplished amazing things in terms of setting aside land for wildlife preserves, parks, and wilderness areas. But almost immediately after his death on January 6, 1919, the enemies of his goals stepped in and tried to overturn all he had done.

No longer did the cause of conservation celebrate White House leadership. In "The Quiet World," Brinkley quotes President Wilson as saying, "Alaska as a storehouse, should be unlocked." And in the summer of  1923, President Harding sailed from Tacoma aboard the SS Henderson, to visit Alaska in the wake of new excitement over oil drilling, after his executive order changed 23 million acres of wilderness from having protected status to being an oil reserve.

I thought about all these events, starting over a century ago, and asked myself what Roosevelt would think about where things stand now. At the same time, I received a press release from Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology concerning the anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil well leak in the Gulf of Mexico. I think I'll let the video speak for itself.

In the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt, let's carry on with the dream of nature as it was meant to be. For as TR believed, only through experiencing wilderness can mankind truly experience freedom.

Note: Please visit the website of the Theodore Roosevelt Association.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Award-winning West Seattle Blog Featured on "Neighborhood Life" Online Journal

Alki Point

Here in Tacoma, news gets around pretty quickly, but not as quickly as in West Seattle. After interviewing Tracy Record, the woman who owns and operates the West Seattle Blog along with her husband Patrick Sand, I felt exhausted just thinking about the energy they expend to provide nearly instantaneous news reports on every little thing that affects residents, including the reason behind the sirens they hear, the latest on a burglary down the street, lost pets, traffic problems, and power outages. Need a good referral for a handyman, babysitter, or auto mechanic? You can find it there, along with a lot more.

As I worked on an article for the online neighborhood improvement journal "Neighborhood Life," I kept checking the blog, out of curiosity. Updates on a developing news story appeared every few minutes and included not only the latest details but also traffic routes to avoid and suggested alternatives. Even as I wrote about how the blog impacts life in our neighboring community across Puget Sound, I felt the tangible pulse of its energy and understood why so many people consider it vital to their everyday lives.

In the article, I quoted Record concerning the phenomenon she and her husband created:

 “The growth has been more heartening than surprising,” Record said. “Currently 30,000 homes/businesses check in at least once a week. We are getting more than 900,000 page views a month. WSB is the most-read news source in West Seattle.” Over 9,000 of those homes and businesses visit it at least once a day according to Quantcast, a service that provides publicly comparable statistics, including all those in her statements. WSB also stands out as the only local news source updated around the clock, sometimes as often as every few minutes.
Iconic theater in the Admiral District

You can read the entire story by clicking on this link for Neighborhood Life, the journal of a non-profit that began in Tacoma with the goal of improving neighborhoods across America. Now it enjoys a nationwide following. And while you look over this Spring 2011 issue, don't miss the photo feature on West Seattle. My trusty Canon and I happened to be there on a rare sunny day at the end of March. Enjoy!
near Fauntlerory