tv American Artifacts Rockwell Roosevelt the Four Freedoms Exhibit CSPAN April 24, 2020 12:44pm-1:35pm EDT
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podcasts. i'm dr. john wettenhall, 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 freedom exhibition is a major traveling international show celebrating the 50th anniversary of the norman rockwell museum, the 75th anniversary of d-day and putting on the road the 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 the state of the union address in 1941. >> the first 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 want, which translated in the world terms means economy understandings which will secure through every nation a healthy, peacetime life for its inhabit ants, everywhere in the world. the fourth is freedom from fear. which translated in the world terms means a worldwide reduction of armaments, 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 freedoms. there was talk of freedoms. but it didn't capture the imagination in any way that people would -- would be excited about until norman rockwell. his four paintings of the four freedoms encapsulated and made understandable and tangible the values of each of those freedoms and were arguably the most prominent and public images, domestic images of world war ii and unified the nation. >> the exhibition begins with
some early rockwell paintings at the time of the new deal. the depression era. giving a little sense of america was like prior to world war ii. and then it goes straight into the war years with videos of fdr's four freedom speech and some reactions to it from other arts trying to encapsulate 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 -- the common person joining the military and what military life was like. a more light hearsthearted apprd the heart of the exhibition is rockwell wrestling with the four freedoms to come up with imagery to 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 bond drive, and ultimately leading towards the end of world war ii. the show culminated with some of rockwell's great and lesser known works that con front civil rights and reimagine, i think, the values of the nation and finally as a digs -- addition to the exhibition, they have 40 artists work to be shown, work done con temporarily ted to reflect upon the values of four freedoms to think about them and show a different concept of how we might think of them today. well, let's begin our tour. i'd 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 lighthearted look at life in the military. one of his more famous ones is willie gillis gillis receiving the care package, and so you can see he's received the box of goodies and he's made quite a few friends and the friends have lined up all looking at his package, and it became a light-hearted symbol of the military together. life on the base, training and this kind of thing and 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 on this one exactly what i mean, but 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 did it. so rockwell retained the picture and after they had been published later on, sometimes the image and 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 that has command of his craft can re-produce the visual imagery in a meticulous manner. rockwell -- his brush and his reproductive skills were as good as a photograph, sometimes better, and if you look back you see the background gets murky and you look around and all of a sudden a great painter like this has sprayed some paint on the sleeve of his image. rockwell didn't do that. somebody did it later when they painted the background and took 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 posing for these pictures and the rabbit's foot for good luck, willie gillis so you know who he is and looking starry-eyed naively as these hardened citizens were eating, smoking, sitting around and looking at the veterans of war and it was thought of as a little bit too harsh a contrast
and wasn't published in "the saturday evening post." this painting just to the side of it here, though, is really one of the better willie gillis images and 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. the painting here, war news was painted by rockwell in late 1944 and it is an image of people in small town america listening to their news, getting their news from a newspaper and the radio in the back. it's really a magnificent composition that the artist takes you to this group of
people listening, watching, all hands 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 prior to d-day on the radio and the figures here are gathering the news and 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 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 factory workers. the munitions plants and to excite the people on the home front to support the war effort and this was an image meant to show the bullets needed and this fighting figure still with all of the details of rockwell and the realistic imagery and all of this cleverly covers his face so that the fighter is an every man and any man fighting for the values of the nation.
norman rockwell began in failure. he 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 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 focus on the four freedoms. he was given three months to do the four freedoms and it took him seven to conceive and paint the pictures once he began. the first painting that he worked on, the one that -- 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, trying to come up with the concept and how he would embody an abstract idea such as freedom of speech and he says he woke up one night and recalled a meeting in the town, arlington, where he lived at the time, a town hall 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 and hearing the point of view and the gentleman lost the vote and the town voted
to enact the tax and to borrow $80,000 to build the new schoolhouse. so this was a dissenting voice, and rockwell made a series of studies after wards and he woke up in the morning very early and started sketching and creating images and we have some of his sketches showing rockwell wrestling with the various ways that he could articulate this image, this idea of freedom of speech and over these images he came with the idea of essentially putting a blackboard in the background, a neutral background so that the speaker would stand tall amongst a group of people who were listening, holding the annual report of the town, the agenda of the meeting and the agenda here of the taxes and you see eyes looking and
ears emphasized because freedom of speech is about the obligation of listening and respectful listening and rockwell created this image that showed everyone paying respect and proper attention. oh, and by the way, that's an image of norman rockwell in the far corner, also showing his ears and his eyes listening to the speech. freedom of religion 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 conscious. freedom from want, rockwell painted during thanksgiving. while there are two family members, his mother and his wife, the rest are neighbors and friends that rockwell posed to create an american family celebrating thanksgiving. 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 on the renaissance painting and in the centerpiece and gathering together with, i would suggest, kind of a divine-like 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, clean and unmessy table showing americans coming together to celebrate thanksgiving in good cheer and family unity. a concept worth preserving, worth fighting for. freedom from fear, we have a mother and a father tucking in the two children. the newspaper has bombings, horror and references, and possibly the bombing of the london blitz of world war i and
if you look at this scene of serenity and peace and 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 them and shows the threat to the future generations. 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 with -- 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 today might have seen images on a television and would have talked about it in their community. some of these essays are quite poignant. the freedom of worship, one of the more difficult, abstract pictures in the series actually has a magnificent essay by the writer will durant of just -- read a couple of passages. man differs from animal -- from the animal in two things. he laughs and his prays. the mark of a man is 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 and 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 and suffer, they can carry to all mankind the boon and stimulus of an ordered liberty. it will be an achievement beside which all of the triumphs of alexander, caesar and napoleon
will be a little thing. to that purpose, they are offering their youth and their blood. to that purpose and to whom we others regretting that we cannot stand beside them, dedicated remainder of our lives. so americans saw these, read about them and the following month, april of 1943, there was a war bond drive. so these images having been rejected initially by sketches by the office of war information became embraced by the federal war bond drive. the concept was that americans would invest, pay fund, pay money for a bond that would mature in a number of years and it was $18 and the bond would pay you back 25, but the concept was the -- that they needed the nation to all come together quickly to raise the funds from munitions and for -- to equip the nation's soldiers appropriately. ♪ >> hollywood's film stars leave
the capital to help the government sell war bonds, heddy lamar, grier garzon all part of a contingent of some 50 screen celebrities giving their time and talent to aid the national war effort. >> so in the second war bond drive the four freedoms were adopted as images of the war bond drive and there 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. so you bought a bond and you received images of the four freedoms to put up in your home. 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 1943, the spring of 1943 was pervasive and was seen as the face of the war effort at that time. he was trained as an illustrator. he studied in the art league in new york and learned the basics of painting and drawing the human body and mastered his craft essentially with a skill of being able to re-create in -- in drawings or in paintings as accurately and realistically as a camera might. he sometimes looked at the world
as too messy and not quite as ideal as he might like it to be and therefore he made it more ideal in his paintings. he became extraordinarily well known through his art and first working for the boy scouts, and then working for magazines. the great one being "the saturday evening post," 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 that was 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 the '20s, the '30s and the '40s up until the early 1970s. so 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 times were bad and there was a market downturn and it wasn't a depression yet and rockwell could look at life still in a lighthearted way. this is the 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, shoe's 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 such a 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 picture of a vacation from 1938 and posters of vacations and exotic ports of call, paris, mountain, vacations and now six years into the depression, a sales person 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 meant something quite different. remember the painting i showed you of the gentlemen around the lunch counter that were
listening to the radio? following that painting rockwell painted this, listening to the radio at his home trying to hear the news. that'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, and you can imagine the static on the radio, trying to get the sound clear so he can hear the messages coming through the radio and you can see the maps of france and england, a map of europe, the channel with the direction that he understands the armies to be -- the military forces to be taken and up above him, eisenhower and mcarthur and three stars, the
army, navy and air force, three sons of the man and 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 war front, each deployed in different areas and you can see in the map behind, american flags have been pinned on to the map. you 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 the "saturday evening post" picture and later given away to the editor of the berkshire eagle in western massachusetts. so what rockwell did is he re-painted the newspaper on the ground as the berkshire eagle and then dedicated it to the staff, to his friend and the staff of the berkshire eagle.
another instance where the image would have been photographed and circulated in magazine form and the painting of the artist rockwell himself given away to a friend. just at the end as world war ii ended in thanksgiving 1945, rockwell made this image of the returning soldier with his mother on the thanksgiving issue of the magazine sitting on the chair that was too small for him and probably his boyhood chair wearing the civilian shoes, but his military uniform, peeling the potatoes as people remember k.p. and peeling potatoes and the like and doing it in a joyous way of a homecoming and it was meant as an image for something for which to be truly
thankful. people's images of norman rockwell and "the saturday evening post," the americana, even a bit kitsch sometimes, people think about that and don't always know the late paintings of his career after he left the post. in 1961, the post was bought out. there was a change in management and rockwell left and no longer had to conform to the standards and scriptures and expectations of "the saturday evening post" reader. he can work on images that he wanted to do and eventually wound up with "look" magazine, the rival to "life" magazine, showing america as it was primarily in photographs and in 1964 he made an image that has come 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. the occasion of this painting was the tenth anniversary of brown versus 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 and the lack of care was delaying 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 re-imagined it based on photographs and documents of the time and created his own image that was starkly different in artistic ways from the images you would have seen in the photograph. the photographs showed the marshals who had to escort ruby bridges from her home to the school, bringing her into this all-white school would have seen them all together walking as a group into the -- up the steps to the school. in this case, he has removed the heads of the marshals and only showed them as figures of authority. marching the first grader off to school, ruby bridges. he's made her elegantly dressed
and in fact, 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 oh, by the way, notice in her book that she holds, stars on the book and it's a vile, vile background of this picture, by the way. the tomatoes being thrown. vile graffiti here, kkk. it's a horrid image and it was 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 -- the 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. 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. ruby bridges is still -- still lives in new orleans and has a foundation and is a trustee of the norman rockwell museum. this painting, i should add, was -- was also brought to the white house and president obama asked for this painting, had it in the white house and had ruby bridges come 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 wouldn't be here and we wouldn't be looking at this together.
>> just having him say that meant a lot to me, and it always has, but to be standing shoulder to shoulder with history and viewing history is just once in a lifetime. >> 1965, rockwell wanted to reproduce for a magazine gruesome killing of three students who went to mississippi to enroll voters. they were killed by the klansmen, but in his drawings for the image, rockwell focused on the gore and the assailants in his final image, he instead chose to make them in shadows so that you couldn't see the real perpetrators of the crime. the klansmen who killed the students, but you saw them as
shadows, as ghouls much in the ways that the ghouls of goya or some of the great artists have shown evil and made it evil in a ubiquitous manner. something -- something that would be too easy to attribute to one or two individuals. this is humanity's evil trying to wipe out good. rockwell was very conflicted about the vietnam war. he was troubled by the news that he heard in 1966, '67. at one point he was commissioned to do paintings on the marines and decided not to follow through 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, and people of diverse walks of american life. the young and old in suits and norman rockwell himself has come to ask. i think in making it plain and not locating it as something as specific as congress with a microphone or with a person there has made this a more -- he's made it a more symbolic, more ubiquitous 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 bringing together diverse people. in this case, a study for the united nations, russia, the united kingdom and the united states as political figure, 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, but 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 works as the golden rule that reflect upon diversities of religion -- all agreeing of the common theme of do unto others as you would have them do unto you. rockwell thought about in a american, white middle class world later in life celebrated the diversity of people and someone, a more global citizen that we remember him as, but his paintings, images and drawings certainly reflect that. in this exhibition, we have carried that theme 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 and
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. and pops peterson, and 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 of all creeds, freedom of speech and liberty and all national values with religious figures from around the world all coming together, human rights and eleanor roosevelt. this is a part of the exhibition that has been extremely popular with guests and particularly younger people who sometimes see the -- 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 received such freedoms and have bestowed the respect on to others and 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 part of the same family. rockwellian, an 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 and a powerful image in an era of
cultural intolerance which is wrapped in the flag. for the student body when the galleries are most full they tend to be here at the top floor looking at what contemporary artists are reflecting upon liberty today and perhaps seeing some of themselves in these images and identifying 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 people from all walks of life throughout the washington, d.c. community, tourists and certainly our academic professors of alumni and students and graduate students of the university.
i'm a trained art historian with a background of renaissance and some the 18th and 19th and some 20th century and i had wrote a book about iwo jima and knew quite a bit about the war bond drive. i knew rockwell's art, but i didn't know -- i knew how skillful he was as an artist and i knew his ability to re-create the visual was extraordinary, as good as any -- most artists alive or has ever lived, but his imagery was thought to be a little light, a little fluffy and too americana and some people would have called it kitsch, but when you see him wrestling with the serious issues of freedom when he had to get away from the -- the softer side of american life as seen in a family magazine and "the saturday evening post" and
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 with the biases that i brought to the show and the late rockwell. rockwell from 1960, '61 on was a person of, i think, profound thought who really looked at the nation's 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 and segregation in housing, racial bias, but also with hope that a united nation's, peace corps and religions coming together. he was an artist that reflected with thoughtfulness and profundity and people talk about art being not just an image, but a mirror and how the mirror
reflects the society around and rockwell was for better or for worse a mirror on the american psyche. >> and enduring ideas, rockwell, roosevelt and the four freedoms has stops in france, houston, denver and finally from september 2020 to 2021 in stockbridge, massachusetts, where it was organized. you can watch this and all other american history tv programs online at c-span.org/history. you're watching a special edition of american history tv.v tonight, we look back at presidents who faced crises while in the white house.
starting at 8:00 p.m. with a 2003 program from book note series. james polk conducted the 1846 to 1848 was against mexico. enjoy american history tv on c-span3. >> this weekend on american history tv, saturday at 2:30 p.m. on oral histories -- >> well, at 5:00 on d day afternoon, they fired -- this huge explosion occurred. at that point, i lifted my head out of my fox hole to see what was going on. suddenly, i heard a huge noise and felt a shock and realized i had been hit. >> then at 6:00 p.m., on the civil war, scott mingus on the importance of the cumberland
valley railroad. >> in stunning example, he doesn't need the ammunition. he doesn't -- even though the railroaders have risked their lives and have set a new speed record for the fastest route the cvr has ever or will ever run during the civil war, not a single one of these ammunition rounds is fired. >> sunday at 4:00 p.m. eastern on reel america, the 1945 u.s. navy film about the battle of okinawa. >> it was desperation. it was suicide. but it would be the pattern from now on to the very finish. a struggle between men who want to die and men who fight to live. >> at 6:00 p.m. on american artifacts, a look the at the restored council house in oklahoma. >> we're certainly proud to have the building back within the
nation. it's been a humbling experience to be a part of this for me personally. talk about a building, but i think for a lot of people, it represents more than just the building. this was sort of the foundation of our present day tribal government. >> this weekend on american history tv on c-span3. every saturday night, american history tv takes you to college classrooms around the country for lechl tur lechl tu . >> deepest cause where we will find the true meaning of the revolution was in this transformation that took place in the minds of the american people. >> we're going to talk about both of these sides of the story here. the tools, techniques of slave owner power. we will also talk about the tools and techniques of power that were practiced by enslaved
people. >> watch history professors lead discussions with their students on topics ranging from the american revolution to september 11th. lectures in history on c-span3 every saturday at 8:00 p.m. eastern on american history tv. and lectures in history is available as a podcast. find it where you listen to podcasts. boston university history professor nina silver spoke at the abraham lincoln symposium. they highlighted the president's life, career and legacy. this is about 50 minutes. >> the program is going to be starting again. if everybody could take their seats.
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