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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Final Days of "More Than Words"

By Lou Garassino
12:00AM / Sunday, December 31, 2006

Part of a Norman Rockwell's illustrated birthday sonnet to Mary Schafer. [courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum]
Weekends offer wonderful opportunities to explore Berkshire museums. iberkshires.com correspondent Lou Garassino visited the Norman Rockwell Museum on Dec. 30 to view the "More Than Words: Artists Illustrated Letters from the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art" exhibit. The exhibit opened in November and will close on Jan. 14.

Stockbridge - Most people have encountered a time when expressing oneself with mere words isn't enough to convey one's feelings, and a current Norman Rockwell Museum art exhibit indicates the 19th- and 20th-century artists faced the same dilemma.

A "More Than Words: Artists Illustrated Letters from the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art" exhibit delivers insights into a number of artists, according to museum officials.

"The personal letters featured in [the exhibit] uncover new insights into artist personalities and creative processes of some of America's finest artists," said Liza Kirwin, who is the exhibit curator and the Archives of American Art manuscript curator.

There are over 65 handwritten, artist-illustrated letters from artists including Winslow Homer, Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo, and Rockwell.

"Like Rockwell, many of the artists in this exhibition made a steady income from their illustrations, so it is not surprising that they would embellish their letters with a sketch or two," said Laurie Norton Moffat in a prepared statement.

Excused Absence?

Rockwell was a renowned local American artist whose art graced the covers of publications such as Life magazine, Literary Digest, Country gentlemen, and the Saturday Evening Post. The current exhibit gives an entire wall to Rockwell for a generous glimpse into his personal life.

Perhaps the funniest of Rockwell's letters is one he wrote to his son Tommy's teacher in November 1945.


The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.[Photo by Lou Garassino]
"To Whom It May Concern, Please excuse Tommy Rockwell's absence from school on Nov. 12 because he was deer hunting," states the Rockwell-signed note.

Rockwell's "Poetry," Frida Kahlo's "Kisses"

"Hail Mary" is a poetic birthday card Rockwell created for family friend Mary Schafer, wife of Chris Schafer. In 1947, Chris Schafer left a banking position in Chicago and moved to Arlington, Vt. to try dairy farming.

Rockwell hired Schafer in 1951 to handle his business matters; the clever card may have been Rockwell's way of thanking Mary Schafer for leaving a familiar lifestyle for a strange and uncertain life path, according to information provided by the museum.

Artist Frida Kahlo was a Mexican surrealist painter who is most remembered for her depictions of herself via self-portraits.

On Oct. 24, 1940,, while in new York, Kahlo wrote to Emmy Lou Packard and thanked her for her care of Kahlo's ex-husband Diego Rivera. According to information provided by the museum, Rivera suffered from an eye ailment while at work on the Pan-American Unity mural in San Francisco.

Three large red lipstick "kisses" are imprinted on the letter to Packard; Kahlo, who was known as possessing a vibrant character, showed gratitude for her loved ones visually, with symbolic "kisses." The trio of lipstick prints were meant for Packard, Rivera, and Packard's son Donald, according to information from the museum.

Another example of artist illustration is exhibited by the Rev. Howard Finster. Finster was a self-taught visionary artist who hailed from Summerville, Georgia. His works include the "Paradise Gardens."

In Good Company

Finster's recognition grew with the production of album covers for rock bands such as R.E.M. and the Talking Heads.

While planning a trip to Washington D.C. in 1981, Finster penned a letter to Barbara Shissler, who had organized an art exhibition that led to the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Finster illustrated the communication with sketches of the men he considered among the most influential of all time, including former U.S. presidents Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, William Henry Harrison, Andrew Jackson, playwright William Shakespeare, and himself.

"I feel so unworthy to live in a world of luxury and these great men paved our way," Finster wrote.

The Norman Rockwell Museum is open daily. General admission is $12.50 for adults, $7 for students [with valid student identification], and free for visitors age 18 and under. Adults may escort up to 5 free visitors per visit."Kids Free Every Day" is sponsored by the Red Lion Inn and Country Curtains. From Nov. to May each Wednesday, senior citizens are admitted at half-price [$6.25].

The museum is open from May to October from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. From November to April the museum is open 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

Gallery tours are offered daily and begin on the hour.An "Antenna Audio Tour" of select paintings from the museum's permanent collection is available and Rockwell's studio is on the museum grounds and open from May to October.

Additional information is available by calling 413-298-4100 ext. 220 or at a www.nrm.org Internet web site.
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