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tv   American Artifacts Rockwell Roosevelt the Four Freedoms Exhibit  CSPAN  November 28, 2019 9:00am-9:51am EST

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captioning performed by vitac >> i'm dr. john wetenhall. i'm director of the george washington university museum and the textile museum here on the campus of george washington university in the heart of washington d.c. norman rockwell's "four freedoms" exhibition is an international show celebrating the 50th anniversary of the
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norman rockwell museum, 75th anniversary of d-day and putting on the road great images that norman rockwell painted that really created a national concept of the four freedoms that made visible, tangible and real the ideological concepts that president roosevelt expressed in his state of the union address in 1941. >> this is freedom of speech and expression everywhere in the world. the second is freedom of every person to worship god in his own way everywhere in the world. the third is freedom from one, which translated in world terms means economic understandings
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which will secure to every nation a healthy, peacetime life for its inhabitants everywhere in the world. the fourth is freedom from fear. which translated in world terms means a world reduction of elements to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor anywhere in the world. [ applause ] >> what people forget today is that the concept of four freedoms did not take immediate hold on the national psyche. a few artists made images of
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freedoms, there was talk of freedoms but it didn't capture the imagination in any way that people would be excited about until norman rockwell. rockwell's four paintings of the four freedoms encapsulated -- made understandable and tangible the values of each of those freedoms and were arguably the most prominent and public images of domestic images of world war ii and unified the nation. the exhibition begins with early rockwell paintings at the time of the new deal. the depression era. giving a little sense of what america was like prior to world war ii. and then it goes straight into the war years with videos of fdr's "four freedoms" speech and some reactions to it from other artists trying to encapsulate
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the four freedoms in art and other images of world war ii following the introduction of fdr's state of the union address of 1941. we look at some of rockwell's early war images. images that were about the common person joining the military and what military life was like. a more light hearted approach. and then really the heart of the exhibition is rockwell's wrestling with these concepts of four freedoms, of trying to come up with imagery that would capture the ideals in a convincing manner and then the spread of those images across the united states, first through magazines and then through posters, the war bomb drive, and ultimately leading toward the end of world war ii. the show culminates with some of rockwell's great and lesser known works that confronts civil rights and reimagine, i think, the values of the nation and
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finally as a coat to the exhibition, the rockwell administration organized 40 artists' work to be shown, work that was done contemhow we mighk of them today. well, let's begin our tour. i would like to show you before we look at four freedoms, i would like to show you the earliest images that rockwell made of world war ii. he conceived a character named willie gillis who was actually a 15-year-old boy at the time, too young to enlist, but he created a series of images, paintings for the "saturday evening post" that were a light hearted look at life in the military. one of his more famous ones is willie gillis receiving the care package. you can see that he received the box of goodies and he's made
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quite a few friends and the friends have lined up all looking at his package and it became kind of a light hearted symbol of the military together life on the base, training and this kind of thing. it would have been a cover for the "saturday evening post." today sometimes these images change a little bit subsequent to their publishing on "the post." i can show you in this one exactly what i mean. first, it's important for us to know that these images for rockwell were valuable as photographs to go on covers of the magazine. the pictures themselves were not intended for museum use or sale or these kinds of things as we think about today in the art world. they were images to be photographed and he was paid for the photograph of the image, the cover, and they gave the painting back to him after he
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did it so rockwell retained the picture. after they had been published later on sometimes the paintings themselves would have been given away or sold to others. this one i'm pretty sure was sold to someone else, and i can show you why. if you look at the background and actually look at the hands, this is magnificent painting. this is an artist who has command of his craft. can reproduce the visual imagery in a meticulous manner. rockwell, his brush and his reproductive skills were as good as a photograph. sometimes better. if you look back you see the background gets murky and you look around and a great painter like this has sprayed paint on the sleeve of his image. rockwell didn't do that. somebody did it later when they painted the background and took
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out the lines from the "saturday evening post." there are other images of willie gillis. this one was never published. willie, the young recruit, remember he was too young to enlist but posing for these pictures, the rabbit's foot for good luck. willie kbil gillis so you know e is. looking the veterans of war. it was actually thought of as a little bit too harsh a contrast and wasn't published in the "saturday evening post." this painting to the side of it here is one of the better willie gillis images. one of the more poignant ones. willie in a place of worship with military superiors in front and behind thinking about what is to come.
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the painting here, "war news," was painted by rockwell late in 1944 and is an image of people in small town america listening to the news getting their news from the newspaper and the radio in the back. it's really a magnificent composition in that the artist takes you through the counter to this group of people listening, watching, ears, eyes, hands all coming together. we know from a sketch that the newspaper was to have on its cover a headline that says "war plans for france." so there was a potential invasion of france being talked about prior to d-day on the radio, and the figures here are
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gathering the news, listening to the news as you would have, and showing the concern of people at home about the war abroad. this was actually not a cover and was not submitted to the "saturday evening post" because rockwell considered it too subtle and too hard for people to understand and read. he made another picture about the radio elsewhere in the exhibition. and this image of the poster is the only image that rockwell painted of actual combat taking place. rockwell was uncomfortable with the concept of painting war in action. that wasn't really what he did. but he did this one showing the bullets being spent. let's give him enough and on time. it was a poster to rally the
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factory workers, the munitions plants to excite the people on the home front to support the war effort and this was an image to show the bullets are needed and this fighting figure still with all of the details of rockwell, the realistic imagery and all of this. very cleverly covers his face so that the fighter is an every man and any man fighting for the values of the nation. norman rockwell's quest to paint the four freedoms actually began in failure. he made a series of sketches and came to washington, d.c. and presented them at the office of war information. the leadership at the time rejected the idea and sent him away without a commission to paint roosevelt's four freedoms. on his trip home, however, he
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stopped in philadelphia and met with his editors at the "saturday evening post" who embraced the idea and instructed rockwell to go home, not to work on other features but to focusc on the four freedoms. he was given three months to do the four freedoms. it took him seven to conceive and paint the pictures once he began. the first painting that he worked on, the one that gave him the inspiration for the series was freedom of speech. as rockwell recalls in his biography, he woke up -- he was struggling as rockwell always did, struggling to come up with a concept and idea of how he would actually embody an abstract idea such as freedom of speech and says he woke up one night and recalled a meeting in the town arlington where he lived at the time, a town hall
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meeting and a debate that took place in arlington about whether or not to rebuild the school that had recently burned down or whether the children would be bussed to the next district and taxes would be saved. he remembered an incident when his neighbor rose to oppose the idea of building the new school, and what he remembered is the rest of the meeting listening respectfully, hearing the point of view, and then by the way, the gentleman lost the vote, the town voted to enact the tax, 80,000 -- and to borrow $80,000 to build the new schoolhouse. this was a descenting voice. rockwell made a series of images. we have his sketches showing rockwell wrestling with the various ways that he could
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articulate this image, this idea of freedom of speech, and what he remembers and over a series of images he came with the idea of essentially putting a black board in the background. a neutral background so the speaker would stand tall amongst a group of people who are listening, holding the annual report of the town, the agenda of the meeting, the agenda here of the taxes, and you see eyes looking and ears emphasized because freedom of speech is about the obligation to listen and respectful listening and so rockwell created this image that showed everyone paying respect and proper attention. and by the way, that's an image of norman rockwell in the far corner also showing his ears and eyes listening to the speech.
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freedom of region is probably the most difficult image that rockwell had to create because how often do people of different religions come together in a place of worship. people worship separately each in their own place of worship and so rockwell created kind of a composition of humanity together, of different faiths coming together all praying to a common god. each according to the dictates of his own conscience. freedom from want rockwell painted during thanksgiving. while there are two family members. his mother and his wife. the rest of neighbors and friends that rockwell posed to create an american family celebrating thanksgiving.
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it's really a symphony of white and a master work of still life, water glasses, not the most lavish dutch still life that you might see. rather sparse except for the enormous turkey that's going to be there and the figures gathering here much like the saints would be gathered in a renaissance painting on each side and the centerpiece gathering you together with, i would such, divine looking in through the windows and the beautifully painted draperies that show white against white against a white tablecloth against clear glasses showing kind of a spotless, a clean and unmessy table showing americans coming together to celebrate
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thanksgiving in good cheer and family unity. a concept worth preserving, worth fighting for. and freedom from fear we have a mother and a father tucking in the two children. the newspaper has bombings, horror, and references probably the bombings of london, the london blitz, of world war ii. if you look around the edges of this kind of scene of serenity and peace, you look around the edges and you see the doll, a reference possibly to a body of war and the light in the back, to me at least, references the kind of orange glow of the firebomb in the back. so it's one of the more subtle images that shows the images of horror overseas that references
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them and shows the threat to the future generations. as i said before, the paintings of rockwell were not the images that americans saw. if you follow me, i can show you that americans would have come to learn about rockwell's four freedoms through images in the "saturday evening post" from february through april every other week one of rockwell's images appeared on a full page spread with an essay by a writer of their interpretation of the freedom of speech or freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. "the saturday evening post" circulated to millions of people so americans would have seen these images much like americans
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today might have seen images on a television and would have talked about it in their community. some of these es as asays are poignant. one has a magnificent essay by the writer will durant. man differs from the animal in two things. he laughs and he prays. but the mark of a man is that he beats his head against the riddle of life, knows his infinite weakness of body and mind, lifts up his heart to a hidden presence in power, and finds in his faith a beacon of heart rendering hope, a pillar of strength for his fragile decency. the essay ends wonderful here. if our sons and brothers accomplish this by their toil
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and suffering, it will be an achievement besides which all the triumphs of alexander, caesar and nap teoleon will be little thing. to that purpose and to whom we others regretting that we cannot stand beside them dedicate the remainder of our lives. so americans saw these, read about them, and the following month, april of 1943, there was a war bomb drive so these images having been rejected initially as sketches by the office of war information became embraced by the federal war bomb drive and the images were adopted as the symbols for the second bomb
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drive and the concept was that americans would invest, pay funds, pay money for a bond that would mature in a number of years. it was about $18 and in ten years the bond would pay you back 25. the concept was that -- the idea was they needed the nation to all come together to raise the funds for munitions and to equip the nation's soldiers appropriately. >> hollywood's most famous stars leave the capital to help the country sell war bonds. all part of a contingent of screen celebrities giving their times and talents to aid the national war effort. >> so in the second war bond drive, the four freedoms were adopted as images of bond drive.
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it was a publicity campaign that went to 17 different cities starting in washington, d.c. and rockwell came to the department store in d.c. and they showed off the posters and they printed in the millions duplicate sets of the four freedoms, a set of four smaller images that were given to you when you bought the bonds. you bought a bond, you received images of the four freedoms to put up in your home. the large posters would have been sent around the country in post offices and schools and elsewhere to rally the nation to buy war bonds. so the dissemination of this image in the spring of 1943 was pervasive and was seen as the face of the war effort at that time./07
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nsh was norman rockwell was trained as an illustrator. he learned the basics of painting and drawing the human body and mastered his craft with a skill of being able to recreate in drawings or in paintings as accurately and realistically as a camera might. although rockwell said in his autobiography that he sometimes looked at the world as a little too messy and not quite as ideal as he would like it to be and, therefore, he made it more ideal in his paintings. he became extraordinarily well known through his art, first working for the boy scouts and then working for magazines. the great one being the "saturday evening post."
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so as an artist who appeared on the cover of "the post" millions of people would see his art. far more than were he an artist making paintings for a wealthy patron or for a museum say. he was a very popular artist and chronicled american life from really the teens through '20s, the '30s, the '40s up until the early 1970s. where this exhibition begins is in the early 1930s. there's an image here from a "saturday evening post" cover of returning home from vacation. this is a year after the stock market crash of 1929, and so while times were bad, there was a market downturn, there wasn't the depression yet so rockwell
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could look at life in a light hearted way. this is a vacation from which you need a vacation. the family has returned home exhausted, a little frog coming out of the child's box. the hastily packed suitcase, the camera, shoes untied, worn out with signs about a wonderful vacation. it's something most -- many americans could relate to. could see a little bit of their own lives in the cover of "the saturday evening post" which made the magazine welcoming when the mail arrived and when "the post" was delivered. people would see something that they would relate to at the time. next to this picture is another painting of a vacation from 1938, but it's quite different. posters are vacations, exotic
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ports of call, vacations, and now six years into the depression, a salesperson with no customers. bored. unsuccessful. this was the vacation in america in the late 1930s as the ravages of the depression, unemployment were spreading throughout the nation, vacation meant something quite different. remember the painting i showed you of the gentleman around the lunch counter listening to the radio. following that painting, rockwell painted this. a gentleman listening to the radio by himself in his home trying to hear the news but it's a much more personal image than the gentlemen at the lunch counter. i'll show you why. first, look at his hand trying to dial in.
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you can imagine the static on the radio trying to get the sound clear so he can hear the messages that are coming through the radio. and on his lap you can see the father with maps france and england, a map of europe, the channel with the direction that he understands the armies -- the military forces to be taking and up above him, eisenhower and mccm mced m mccarthur. as you see the clues around, maps and the like, you realize that he's trying to track the progress that his sons would be making on the warfront, each deployed in different areas and you can see in the map behind american flags had been pinned
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onto the map. we can only presume that these are the locations that he believes his sons are fighting in. the painting, by the way, was later. this was a "saturday evening post" picture and later given away to the editor of "the bi birkshire eagle" and dedicated to his friend. another instance where the image would have been photographed and se circulated in painted form and the actual painting by rockwell himself given away to a friend. just at the end as world war ii ended in thanksgiving 1945,
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rockwell made this image of the returning soldier with his mother for the thanksgiving issue of the magazine sitting on the chair that's a little bit too small for him, probably his boyhood chair, wearing the civilian shoes but his military uniform peeling the potatoes as people remember kp and peeling potatoes and the like but doing it in a joyous way of a homecoming and something for which to be truly thankful. people's images of norman rockwell in "the saturday evening post" the americana even a bit kich sometimes, people think about that and don't always know the late paintings of his career after he left the
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post. in 1961, "the post" was bought out and there was a change in management and rockwell left and no longer had to conform to the standards and expectations of "the saturday evening post" reader. he could work on images that he wanted to do and eventually wound up with "look" magazine. the rival to "life" magazine showing america as it were primarily with photographs but in 1964, he made an image that has welcome to be quite famous called "the problem we all live with." it was painted in 1963 reflecting upon an incident in 1960 of ruby bridges, the first little girl who was brought to an all-white school as new orleans was segregated.
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the occasion of this painting was the tenth anniversary of brown vs. the board of education. the supreme court case that mandated integration in the schools and declared that separate but equal was not sufficient in the united states. however, it was understood that in many communities the foot dragging, the delays, the lack of care of the leadership of communities was delaying the segregation -- or the integration of these schools and rockwell troubled by that in the tenth anniversary looked back, reached back for this image of ruby bridges and reimagined it based on photographs, documents at the time, and created his own image that was starkly different in artistic ways from the images you would have seen in the
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photograph. the photograph showed the marshals bringing her into had all-white school. in this case, he has removed the heads of the marshals and only shown them as figures of authority marching the first grader off to school, ruby bridges. he's made her elegantly dressed and rockwell commissioned a resident of his town in massachusetts to make a new dress in white for his model for this image so that she were clean and notice in her book that she holds, stars on the book reference to the american flag. originally in the drawings and
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it's a vile background of this picture by the way, the tomatoes being thrown, the vile graffiti here, kkk, it's a horrid image and a horrid scene at the time when protesters and basically angry mobs were at the side of the roads screaming at the girl as she was going -- poor girl going to school at the time. rockwell was so troubled by this in his original image he had ruby on this side and she couldn't be in the middle because it was a two-page magazine spread and so the crease of the magazine was in the middle and rockwell decided to move her to the front so that the little girl was leading the marshals as opposed to the marshals leading the girl.
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ruby bridges still lives in new orleans. has a foundation and is a trustee of the norman rockwell museum. this painting, i should add, was also brought to the white house. president obama asked for this painting, had it in the white house and ruby bridges came to the white house and she showed president obama the image. >> i think it's fair to say that if it hadn't been for you guys, i might not be here and we wouldn't be looking at this together. >> just having him say that meant a lot to me. it always has. but to be standing shoulder to shoulder with history and viewing history, it's just once in a lifetime. >> 1965 rockwell wanted to reproduce for the magazine a
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gruesome killing of three students who went to mississippi to enroll voters. they were killed by the klansman but he focused on the gore and assailants and in the final image showed to make them in shadows so you couldn't see the real perpetrators of the crime, the klansman who killed the students but you saw them as shadows and ghouls much in the way the ghouls of the great artists have shown evil and made it evil, something that would be too easy to attribute to one or two individuals. this is humanities evil trying to wipe out good.
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rockwell was very conflicted about the vietnam war. he was troubled by the news that he heard in the 1965, '66, '67. at one point he was commissioned to actually do some paintings on the marines and decided not to followthrough on the commission because of his conflict with the war and in working through his thoughts he came up with this image from 1968 called "the right to know." recognizing that the people have the obligation and the right to understand the purposes for which the nation goes to war. you see the empty chair here. the chair of authority. and the people have come, people
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of diverse walks of american life, young and old, in suits and norman rockwell himself has come to ask. i think in making it plain and not locating it in something as specific as congress with a microphone or with a person there has made this a more -- has made it a more symbolic, more ambiguous right rather than an incident and so the right to know would have probably been something rockwell would have thought about in the way he would have freedom. as people think of rockwell as the typical american family and the like, as he grew more mature and thoughtful, rockwell created a series of paintings and images
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bringing together diverse people. in this case, a study for the united nations, russia, the united kingdom and the united states as political figures but surrounded by people from the world, an image kind of like a gandhi figure there but people from all nations brought together in thought, contemplation, expectation, hope, desire, that the diverse peoples of the world could come together. we see this theme throughout rockwell's late career, the last years of his life, as he does such work as "the golden rule" that reflect upon diversities of religion all agreeing of the common theme of doing onto others as would you have them do onto you. rockwell while thought about in an american white middle class world later in life celebrated the diversity of people and the
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diversities of cultures and was someone more a global citizen that we today remember him as but his paintings and his images and his drawings reflect that. in this exhibition we have carried that people forward beyond rockwell's lifetime. the rockwell museum in organizing the show put out a call for artists who wished to reflect upon the theme of freedom in america today. over 1,000 entries were received and a jury from around the country of art and other experts around the country selected works by some 40 artists to reflect upon rockwell's freedoms and freedom in america today so the show ends with these images that people can go by and see modern takes on rockwell.
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pops peterson who lives near the rockwell museum obviously freedom from fear except the newspaper has changed to "i can't breathe!" you have other images of freedom of speech today shouting, accusing, pointing. information, fake, fake, fake. fake news and people gathering their news as they wish from sources they wish we see in the images that have been submitted by the artists much greater diversity of subject. people black, white, from diverse cultures, all creeds, freedom of speech and liberty and all national values with religious figures from around the world all coming together, human rights, eleanor roosevelt.
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this is a part of the exhibition that's been extremely popular with guests and particularly younger people who sometimes see the freedom of expression as expressed in the 1940s as sometimes limiting, sometimes monolithic and now understanding that freedom in america today is something that's vitally important from what perspective someone comes from to what extent they've received such freedoms and it bestowed the respect onto others. so you can go through this part of the exhibition and see various themes of different peoples and certain inhibitors of liberty such as the intrusiveness of electronics and surveillance that enters people's homes. religious figures, the dalai lama, gandhi, and others all
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part of the same family. rockwell in ideal like the golden rule and yet more diverse, more inclusive perhaps from the perspective of today's artists and today's viewers. certainly some images of resistance and the reminder that sometimes the nation has fallen short of its ideals. a powerful image in an era of sometimes religious and cultural intolerance wrapped in the flag. for the student body when the galleries are most full, they tend to be here on the top floor looking at what contemporary artists are reflecting on liberty today and perhaps seeing some of themselves in these images and identifying
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themselves amongst the various competing positions of these vital issues today. so i found that this has been an exhibition that has brought great diversity to the museum and peoples from all walks of life throughout the washington, d.c. community, tourists, and certainly our academic community of professors and alumni and most of all students and graduate students here at the george washington university. i am a trained artist historian in monuments of the 18th and 19th and some 20th century. i had written a book and knew about the war bond drive. i knew rockwell's art but i didn't know -- i knew how skillful he was as an arti isar.
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i knew his ability to recreate was extraordinary as good as most artists alive or ever lived perhaps. but his imagery was always thought to be a little light, a little fluffy, a little too americana. some people would have called t kiche. when you see him wrestling with the issues of freedom and he had to get away from the softer side of american life as seen in a family magazine, "the saturday evening post" but instead look at the struggles of the nation and the perils of the world, he became much more serious and was an artist of much more depth and thought than i had originally thought in my own -- with the biases i bought to this show. rockwell from 1961 on was a person of profound thought who really looked at the nation's
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execution or living up to its values and found that sometimes the nation fell short. and he had the courage to look at segregation in the schools, segregation in housing, racial bias, but also with hope that a united nations, a peace corps, religions of the world coming together. so he was an artist to reflected, i think, with some thoughtfulness the american condition and maybe as an are theist -- artist people talk about not just an image but a mirror and how mirror reflects society around it and rockwell was for better or worse a mirror on the american psyche. >> during ideals, rockwell, roosevelt and four freedoms is a traveling exhibit with stops in france, houston, denver, and finally from september 2020 to january 2021 at the norman
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rockwell museum in massachusetts where it was organized. you can watch this and all other american history tv programs online at >> watch american history tv all week on c-span3 and features this thanksgiving weekend. today at 10:00 a.m. eastern, historians discuss african-american migration over the past century. >> as we teach the great migration we must teach it appropriately and that a promised land did not exist. there may have been opportunities in the north but devil existed there too. >> friday at 8:00 a.m. a tour of the "votes for women" marking the 19th amendment. >> she was well ahead of her
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time. she started her own business as a wall street banker with her sister. she advocated for free love, which means sex outside of marriage, which was definitely outside of the norms for women in the 1870s and she ran for president on a third-party ticket. >> saturday at 5:00 p.m. eastern, held captive during the iran hostage crisis talk about experiences 40 years later. >> one of the marines said to me, he said, kate, why did you not ever say you were in solita solitary. you kept saying i was alone. my mind didn't work in connections of this is solitary imprisonment. my mind worked to the point, my god, i've been given an incredible gift of time. no appointments, no meetings, no plans. what can i do with it? >> and sunday at 6:00 p.m. eastern on oral histories from the richard nixon presidential
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library, experiences on house judicial committee lawyers during impeachment of richard nix nixon. >> it falls to you while you're in the house to examine abuses of power by the president, be as careful as john door was, restrain yourself from grand st grandstanding and holding news conferences and playing to your base. this goes way beyond whose side you're on or who's on your side. >> frank, i wanted to tell you
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if i hang my head in shame and what i would say very unfair personalized reporting of these fellas and i think that you ought to know that opinion because you're going to be disappointed in me down the road if i didn't tell you that. i'm just telling you frankly that i think your industry is wrecking all of us. >> well, that's pretty heavy handed. you can imagine what it was like for the journalists the next day. he won't call them in that so offended him in the press conference and the fact that they're wrecking the country. very disturbing. we're hearing that today that the press is the enemy of the american people according to president trump. the president is not the enemy of the american people. the press is doing work for the american people. >> sunday night, patty rhule talks about the tension between
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american presidents and the press. watch c-span's "q & a" sunday night at 8:00 p.m. eastern. >> a winter count is an historic record of a tribe drawn in symbols on a hyde or other material. in a short film, lydia bluebird uses her great uncle's winter count to explain the tradition. the sioux were one of these


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