Norman Rockwell kin take book fight online in bid to end 'promotion'

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STOCKBRIDGE, MASS. >> Members of Norman Rockwell's family are calling on the Norman Rockwell Museum and its director, Laurie Norton Moffatt, to end the "continued promotion" of a controversial 2013 biography of the artist.

The late artist's granddaughter, Abigail Rockwell, said this week that an exhibit at the museum in Stockbridge — "Rockwell and Realism in an Abstract World" — and a review that appeared in The Boston Globe revived talk of Deborah Solomon's biography of Rockwell, "American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell."

After the biography appeared, family members and others blasted it as being full of inaccuracies and unwarranted interpretations by Solomon — most notably concerning speculation of repressed homosexual and pedophilic tendencies. And they were highly critical of the Stockbridge museum and Moffatt for endorsing and promoting the book.

Rockwell said the recent Globe article, as well as the museum, continue to promote the book in a positive light, despite pleas to the museum from family members and many others around the country.

She said she and her father, Thomas Rockwell, have set up an online petition to Moffatt and the museum executive board. Viewers are asked to support the statement: "Stop Promoting & Selling a Fraudulent Biography of Norman Rockwell."

As of Wednesday afternoon at 4, the petition had been signed by 767 supporters.

Rockwell also said in an email to The Eagle: "It is not the Laurie Norton Moffatt Museum — it is the Norman Rockwell Museum. But somewhere along the way, so many forgot the priority of standing up for the truth and for Norman Rockwell. It is shameful what Moffatt and the board are doing."

Asked for a comment from Moffatt or board members, a museum spokesman said of the online petition: "We are aware of it, and have no plans to respond. Norman Rockwell Museum is the central repository for information on the life and art of Norman Rockwell; the 2013 Solomon biography is one in a long line of books about the artist available at the museum."

Renewed discussion

The current exhibit at the Rockwell Museum, which runs through Oct. 30, juxtaposes and examines the work of Jackson Pollock and others with the work of Norman Rockwell, which was said to represent a vanishing American era by the 1950s while abstract works were emerging.

The work that is used to advertise the exhibit is Rockwell's "The Connoisseur (1961)," which depicts a man examining a painting that closely resembles a work by Pollock.

The Globe exhibit review, by art critic Sebastian Smee, praises the Solomon book and takes up the theme of Rockwell's "American mirror" to discuss the merits of a Rockwellian view of America compared to an abstract view in the post-World War II world.

Smee does not, however, mention inferences in the Solomon book to possible repressed pedophilic or homosexual tendencies on the part of Rockwell.

"He [Rockwell] demonstrated his awareness, with typical slyness and humor, in a celebrated painting called 'The Connoisseur,"' Smee wrote. "It shows, from behind, an old-fashioned man in a silver suit staring at a parti-colored abstract painting in the drip-and-splatter mode of Jackson Pollock."

The Globe reviewer added, "To get this painting-within-a-painting right, Rockwell went to great lengths to replicate Pollock's method, as Deborah Solomon points out in 'American Mirror,' her terrific Rockwell biography. (Solomon also wrote an insightful biography of Pollock.)"

'Not going away'

"What needs to be understood is that this [controversy] is not going away until the museum stops promoting the book," Abigail Rockwell said this week.

She told The Eagle in 2013 that family members and friends were angered that Moffatt had praised Solomon's biography after it appeared and endorsed it.

Moffatt was quoted at the time: "'American Mirror' is a masterpiece — vivid, forthright and insightful. Through superb research and keen interpretation, Deborah Solomon tells the story of an artist so many thought they knew well, and perhaps did not know at all. An epic achievement."

Rockwell contends that since then, the museum has ignored many critical comments concerning Solomon's research for the biography, and she contends the book should not be embraced by museum officials, but rejected.

"Instead, they have circled the wagons," Rockwell said, and have used the biography in promoting the museum.

Rockwell added that the book's suspected errors and omissions became obvious during research she did prior to a report she prepared in 2014. She wrote of her findings in a 2014 Huffington Post article.

Stockbridge, the site of the museum, is where the artist lived from 1953 until his death in 1978. He previously lived and had a studio for many years in Arlington, Vt. At both locations, Rockwell created now-iconic images, often using his neighbors and friends as models.

In the Rockwell biography, Solomon attempts to interpret the artist's insecurities and sexual tendencies, partly based on images in his famous works and on public or private statements.

The Rockwells said in 2013: "She [Solomon] supports this unfounded claim with another phantom theory, that Rockwell was a closeted homosexual. To link pedophilia and homosexuality in this way is offensive and clearly homophobic. We have found at least 68 of these sexual references throughout the book."

Their online petition can be viewed at change.org.

"There was a respectful outcry" among those commenting online, Rockwell said. "These are people who love the Rockwell Museum. They wonder why they [museum officials] would stand behind a book that has been debunked."

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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