Yesterday I took a father-daughter afternoon and went with Hannah to the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Birmingham Museum of Art, which runs through 6 January 2013. It was a visit to the country I grew up in. The Runaway was always one of my favorites, perhaps because the kid looks like me when I was his age, perhaps because I ran away at a later age (15).
One of Rockwell's works that I had not encountered before, though, is this one:
It reminded me of Orwell's often misquoted observation:
(Kipling's)"grasp of function, of who protects whom, is very sound. He sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilized, are there to guard and feed them." -- Essay on Kipling, 1942.
Entitled Christmas: Knight Looking In Stained Glass Window first appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on 6 December 1930. The "knight" is more of a town watchman, but perhaps Rockwell's entire point was to ennoble his sacrifice with a title. He is standing watch outside at Christmas feast, perhaps just pausing there as he makes his rounds. It is cold and dark outside and a layer of snow is on the top of the window casing. The wind is blowing his cloak. He stands with his back to the wind, gazing through the window at the merry makers.
The original oil on canvas painting is 48 x 30 inches and the print does not do it justice. This is my new favorite Rockwell work.
Another one, from 1968, struck me particularly, mostly for its caption which rings truer today than then. Though Rockwell intended it as a commentary on Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement, the government secrecy it condemns has reached a pinnacle with the Bush and Obama administrations.
"We are the governed, but we govern too. Assume our love of country, for it is only the simplest of self-love. Worry little about our strength, for we have our history to show for it. And because we are strong, there are others who have hope. But watch closely from now on, for those of us who stand here mean to watch those we put in the seats of power. And listen to us, you who lead, for we are listening harder for the truth that you have not always offered us. Your voice must be ours, and ours speaks of cities that are not safe, and of wars we do not want, of poor in a land of plenty, and of a world that will not take the shape our arms would give it. We are not fierce, and the truth will not frighten us. Trust us, for we have given you our trust. We are the governed, remember, but we govern too." (Caption accompanying "The Right to Know," Norman Rockwell, 1968)
It was a very pleasant afternoon, though my daughter could scarcely credit my stories of playing in our neighborhood until well after dark, cars and houses left unlocked and neighbors whom we actually knew.