Sunday, March 25, 2012

UC Research Brings to Light Norman Rockwell's Artistic Legacy on Civil Rights

From: UC News

A master's thesis by UC student (now alumna) Kirstie Kleopfer Craven was the first to explore Norman Rockwell's depictions of African Americans throughout his career. That thesis research is the subject of recent interest thanks to exhibitions and scholarship on Rockwell's artistic legacy related to the civil rights struggle.

Date: 3/24/2012 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Provided by Norman Rockwell Museum Collections, and Kirstie Craven

UC ingot   Kirstie Kleopfer Craven's master's thesis is something of a sleeper hit.

When a University of Cincinnati art history master's student, Craven dedicated her thesis to a comprehensive examination of how illustrator and artist Norman Rockwell had depicted African Americans in his work throughout his lifetime, culminating in his well-known paintings depicting the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s. Those later works in his life included such iconic paintings as "The Problem We All Live With," inspired by the desegregation of New Orleans public schools when first-grader Ruby Bridges was escorted by United States Marshals into a local elementary school.
The Problem We All Live With
"The Problem We All Live With" by Norman Rockwell in 1963 served as a story illustration for "Look" magazine in January 1964.

"Before my thesis, no one had looked at the evolution of Rockwell's depictions of African Americans throughout his career. I was curious how he got to the point where he was recording, through painting and his own unique style, the civil rights movement," said Craven, whose 2007 thesis is titled "Norman Rockwell's Civil Rights Paintings of the 1960s."

Craven explained that Rockwell began working for Look magazine in 1964 because he wanted to explore new subject matter, including civil rights, and was frustrated with the limitations on subject matter imposed by the Saturday Evening Post’s editors. Look editor Dan Mich would provide Rockwell with the freedom to finally produce the “big pictures” that he had been forbidden to produce for the Post. 

In the thesis, Craven provides a deep analysis of the paintings Rockwell produced about the Civil Rights Movement and the historical events which inspired them, revealing Rockwell’s passionate critique of the American society he had so frequently idealized. Not only that, she explores Rockwell’s depictions of African Americans throughout his career and the evolution of his growing interest in promoting racial tolerance and equality.

Because of her thesis, Craven, a current resident of Erlanger, Ky., who serves as curatorial administrative assistant at the Cincinnati Art Museum, was recently invited to lecture at the Dayton Art Institute in conjunction with the exhibition "American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell," which made use of works lent by the Norman Rockwell Museum.  She also led two special tours of the exhibition and was able to meet Ruby Bridges at a related event. In addition, she has seen her thesis cited in articles and suggested as recommended reading in Ron Schick's 2009 exhibition catalogue, "Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera," which examines Rockwell's careful use of photography to create the intricately detailed scenes and expressive characters in his paintings.

Not to mention that Craven's UC thesis, which is available via OhioLINK, has been downloaded almost 2,000 times.
UC's alumna Kirstie Craven in front of an image of Norman Rockwell
UC alumna Kirstie Craven in front of an image of Norman Rockwell.

The best part of this attention, according to Craven, "is a sense of accomplishment. The thesis isn't sitting on a shelf unread. People are reading it, citing it. There's something of a Rockwell renaissance going on, and I have a part in that since the researchers who are part of that are familiar with the work I did."

* Image: "The Problem We All Live With," Norman Rockwell, 1963
Oil on canvas, 36” x 58” 
Illustration for "Look," January 14, 1964 
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, NRM.1975.1 
Licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL. 

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