In this rapid-paced day and age, brought on by ever-changing technology, it’s easy to forget that within the last hundred years or so, a significant number of impactful historical events took place: the invention of the television set, two world wars, the civil rights movement, the moon landing, and the assassination of JFK to name just a piddling few.
Throughout the 20th century, Norman Rockwell captured it all with his paintbrush in great detail, authenticity, and oftentimes humor. Rockwell once explained, “I was showing the America I know to the people who might not notice,” and that’s exactly what he achieved. With his astute eye, Rockwell redefined American life and what it meant to be American. Rockwell somehow managed to brilliantly captured American scenes documenting some of the most important events in history, as well as the everyday mundane events of the 1900s with undeniable charm, but in a timeless and universal way that’s still just as relevant today as they were decades ago.
Tucked behind a long and winding driveway in the small town of Stockbridge lies the Norman Rockwell Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of Norman Rockwell original art, including a copy of all 321 of Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post magazine covers, as well as Rockwell’s actual artist studio. The Museum is the most popular year-round cultural attraction in the Berkshires with educational programs, daily gallery talks, and special exhibits scheduled throughout the year. Walking through the doors is like an American history book come to life.
Visitors to the Norman Rockwell Museum should start downstairs in the Stockbridge Room to watch the introductory video that serves as a starting point with information on Rockwell’s life and times, as well as a number of his most famous works. It is also in the Stockbridge Room where all 321 covers of Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post magazine covers can be found. It’s easy to spot the most recognizable covers, but they are all spectacular, fascinating, and deserving of your attention.
The museums’s optional audio guide is highly recommended as it is narrated in fabulous detail by Rockwell’s youngest son, Peter, and the museum’s curator. The award-winning audio guide offers a behind-the-scene look into some of Rockwell’s most famous works and even includes a separate recording designed especially for children. If you decide to forego the audio guide, a majority of the works on display still have excellent descriptions to give you a better understanding of Rockwell’s sheer genius.
At first glance, it may seem odd that a world-class museum dedicated to such an iconic artist would be located in a rather remote area, but Rockwell’s ties to Western Massachusetts are strong. Rockwell moved with his family to Stockbridge in 1953 and lived there until his death in 1978. Rockwell often used Stockbridge locals in his paintings, many of whom can still be seen strolling down Main Street. The town of Stockbridge continues to hold great esteem for their famous resident — so much so that his famous Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas painting is lovingly recreated on the actual Main Street it was modeled after. Each winter on the first Sunday of December between the hours of 12 and 2 in the afternoon, Rockwell’s beloved Main Street comes to life. What an incredible sight that must be!
The next time you find yourself in the Berkshires, do make it out to the Norman Rockwell Museum. Not only will be you seeing an impressive collection of a renown artist, you’ll also be taking a history trip through America’s most pivotal years. Through it all, the trials and tribulations, the joy and the wonderment, Norman Rockwell succeeds in showing us the America we may not have noticed, but should never forget.
*My tour was sponsored by the Norman Rockwell Museum, but all opinions are an accurate and honest view on my experience there.