Day: January 28, 2014
As an aspiring artist growing up in the 40s and 50s, I was, like many artists of that period, greatly influenced by Norman Rockwell. Despite the fact that the Saturday Evening Post, which regularly featured Rockwell covers, had a policy of only showing people of color in menial roles, other than Ebony and National Geographic, there was little else being published that an artist could look to for inspiration.
As an artist, though, I am probably more observant than the average person, and I’m aware that Rockwell on occasion had people of color, African-American, Native American, or Asian, in his paintings. I wasn’t aware that he was thought of as a painter of a ‘white’ America – but, I was looking into his paintings, not just at them.
You can imagine, then, how surprised I was to receive a free copy of Jane Ellen Petrick’s Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Normal Rockwell’s Paintings. This compelling account of Rockwell’s career, viewed from the perspective of the models he used for his work, exposed a side of the artist I had never been aware of. Petrick has clearly done her research, adding an invaluable dimension to our knowledge of one of America’s artistic icons. Knowing his views on civil rights and equality makes me appreciate his work all the more, and his battles with ‘the suits’ who make editorial decisions makes the battles most of us freelancers fight pale by comparison
My only complaint about this wonderful volume is that it didn’t contain more Rockwell illustrations.
My Water Path by Timothy Joseph is a story of an era of madness in America, told from the point of view of Jory Sheppard, a white orphan, who, while running away to keep from being put in a foster home, gets caught in a storm on the Mississippi River that drives him into the arms and home of a kindly black man, Moses Kent, who teaches him about life.
Joseph paints a starkly realistic picture of life in Mississippi during the time leading up to and during the Civil Rights era, not in terms of headline-making events, but in how ordinary people coped with those events. With the exception of one or two characters that might seem a bit one-dimensional – they’re actually very realistic, but unless you lived through that era it will be hard to believe – he takes us under the skin of the characters and into their hearts and minds.
I received a free review copy of this gritty novel, and found that once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down until I was done. A well-written piece of fictional history of an all-too real time in American social history.