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February 5, 2010

today, looking back at yesterday

by Andrea O'Connell

Today I went to see a Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Fort Lauderdale (Florida) Museum of Art.  It was a terrific show…. I found myself laughing with joy at his whimsical images, and choked by tears at some others.  And each piece transported me back to a moment in my past, like stops on a rail car in a smoky but timeless (or time-free / care-free) dream.

It was both lovely and eerie to revisit the history of America from Rockwell’s point of view. I also saw the history of who I was, who I grew up to be.

Like so many people, I was enamored by Rockwell.  And today, at the exhibit, I found myself taking a walk down my past; down a road of my past where the Rockwell paintings were like road signs that both warned and informed, communicated and lectured, cajoled and harangued – mirroring moments of time that I had not thought of for a long while.  My high school prom, and first love; segregation where I grew up and my awareness of racial inequality, religion, softball games, dancing, theatre, and also, how awkward it was to grow up as a skinny tomboy.

The exhibit triggered all kinds of memories.  Some softly colored and nicely jeweled, some jagged turns – all of the good and weird and wild times.

Seeing Rockwell’s “Freedom of Religion” piece (the one with the many varied faces praying together but separately), reminded me of my inability to find religion -an inability to swallow it, whole.  Even from a young age, i viewed religion as an escape.  I still feel that way, though I respect and appreciate all religions, not one of them (and I have tried on many) fits my frame; so I don’t worry about it any more.

And then there’s the incredible Rockwell piece “Murder in Mississippi” – his famous depiction of the murder of three young men in Mississippi – Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney. The museum dedicated three walls to illustrate Rockwell’s process to create this gut wrenching masterpiece.

Rockwell worked exclusively on this piece for over five weeks (he generally worked on a quite a few projects at a time), and it consumed him with such fervor that he went so far as to study how blood spills out as a result of fatal or near-fatal injuries.  He was able to even get his hands on real human blood to create and depict the scene of these three young men being murdered.

I have many favorites from the Rockwell cornucopia, but there is one that is my special favorite. The “Golden Rule” (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you).

I haven’t seen this image in years, but I remembered how deeply it resonated with me then.  For years I have tried to make this Golden Rule my mantra.  I still try because I get it now… I get the Golden Rule.

Thank you Norman Rockwell for bringing me such joy again today

“Golden Rule”

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