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Celebrating the Four Freedoms: Communication Professor Curates Iconic Norman Rockwell Exhibit  

Norman Rockwell's Freedom of Speech painting depicting a man standing above others in a jury

Norman Rockwell's Freedom of Speech

Featured in Smithsonian magazine and the U.K.'s Guardian, Professor James J. Kimble is the co-curator of "Enduring Ideals," a celebration of the 75th anniversary of Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms.

Rockwell's paintings were intended to represent the Four Freedoms first declared by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1941.

According to Smithsonian, "Hoping to stoke enthusiasm for American involvement in World War II, Roosevelt delivered an address to Congress in January 1941 that laid out the humanitarian values at stake: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear.”

Initially, the speech and the concept were met largely by indifference. 

Norman Rockwell's Freedom of Worship painting depicting multiple people praying

Norman Rockwell's Freedom of Worship

The Smithsonian notes: 

Though lacking the poetry of 'a date which will live in infamy,' the 'Four Freedoms' was carefully crafted, employing catchy alliteration and enumeratio, the classic rhetorical device of dividing a big idea into numbered parts. But 'freedom itself is hard to understand, and now you have four of them,' says James Kimble, co-curator of the Norman Rockwell Museum's new traveling exhibition, 'Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms.'

The Guardian article explains,

'The Four Freedoms actually failed to gain traction among Americans,' said James Kimble, co-curator of the exhibit and a professor at Seton Hall University, at the press preview. 'It was such an abstract ideal to them. Now, a number of rhetoricians have named it one of the top 50 speeches of the 20th century, but at the time it was, in a sense, a dud.'

The dud, however, quickly became iconic when Rockwell transformed those words into paintings which were reproduced as posters for The Saturday Evening Post in 1943 and breathed new life into the campaign. 

Norman Rockwell's Freedom from Want painting depicting a family celebrating over a Thanksgiving dinner

Norman Rockwell's Freedom From Want

According to Smithsonian,

The Office of War Information, by now being infiltrated by image-savvy, 'Mad Men'-style advertising executives, arranged a 1943-'44 national tour for the paintings, which raised almost $133 million in war bonds. Millions of reprints appeared everywhere—inside taxicabs, on milk bottles and stuffed inside Americans' monthly bank statements, for starters. When the traveling paintings reached a new city, parades shook the streets.

Rockwell's scenes gave people 'something they could remember,' says Kimble, an associate professor of communication at Seton Hall University.

Norman Rockwell's Freedom From Fear painting depicting a doctor and mother standing over a sick child's bed

Norman Rockwell's Freedom From Fear

Three quarters of a century later, they are still remembering. 

Organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA, the exhibit, which features the Four Freedoms along with other work from Norman Rockwell and other period artists and photographers as well as contemporary reinterpretations of the Four Freedoms, will be on display at the New York Historical Society until September 2, 2018. 

After that, the exhibit will be displayed at the Henry Ford, Dearborn, MI, October – December 2018; the George Washington University Museum and the Textile Museum, Washington, D.C., February – April 2019; Caen Memorial Museum, Normandy, France, June – October 2019; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, December 2019 – March 2020; a venue to be announced for spring – summer 2020; and Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA, fall 2020.  

Read the Smithsonian article, "A 21st-Century Reimagining of Norman Rockwell's 'Four Freedoms'"

Read The Guardian article, "Four Freedoms at 75: Norman Rockwell's paintings come to life again"

Read more about the exhibit from the New York Historical Society, "New York Historical Society to Showcase Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms on First Stop of International Touring Exhibition"

Categories: Arts and Culture

For more information, please contact:

  • Michael Ricciardelli
  • (973) 378-9845
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