Salt Lake City celebration features works from the National Scouting Museum.
From July 20 to December 2013, you’ll have an extra reason to visit Salt Lake City. As part of the celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the partnership between the Boy Scouts of America and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the National Scouting Museum is staging a special art exhibit at the magnificent Church History Museum.
“American Originals: Norman Rockwell and Scouting” features 24 pieces by Rockwell, the famed illustrator whose work became synonymous with Scouting during his more than 60-year association with BSA. In addition, visitors will see works by Joseph Csatari, Rockwell’s friend and colleague who succeeded him as Scouting’s official artist, Dean Cornwell, and other artists. The exhibit will also include BSA cultural artifacts (vintage hats, shoulder cords and neckerchiefs from the 1950s, and Boys’ Life covers), documentary photographs of Rockwell’s creative process, and other memorabilia.
The artworks were selected by Corry Kanzenberg, curator of exhibitions and collections at the National Scouting Museum in Irving, Texas, which houses more than 600,000 objects from the movement’s history. Kanzenberg, a noted Rockwell authority who previously oversaw archival collections at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., talked with Scouting about Rockwell’s working style and some of the historic works on display in Salt Lake City.
“The National Scouting Museum is home to 57 artworks by Rockwell, the largest public collection outside of his namesake museum,” says Kanzenberg. “We wanted to show the whole breadth of his work for the Boy Scouts. So we begin with illustrations that date from the 19-teens, and we have art representing every decade he worked for the BSA through the 1970s.”
Kanzenberg says Rockwell had a specific way of planning and completing an illustration, a process that the exhibit will explain with documentary photographs. Rockwell would start with an idea, perhaps for a campfire scene or a group of Scouts planting a tree. Then he would create thumbnail sketches, finally settling on one he liked before bringing models into the studio. Kanzenberg notes that as early as 1929, Rockwell worked from photos as a main reference point. Before that, he used models that would sit as he worked.
“Once he got the models into the studio,” Kanzenberg says, “he worked more as a director, showing them how to pose. He knew exactly what he wanted—the expressions, the stances. A photographer would then take their picture. He worked with 20 to 100 photographs depending on how detailed the image was going to be.”
Rockwell used the photos to create a charcoal study about the same size as his canvas, after which he projected the image onto the canvas. This creative process produced many of the works featured in the LDS-BSA celebration. We asked Kanzenberg to comment on a few of them:
A DAILY GOOD TURN (1918): Produced for Red Cross Magazine, it’s one of the earliest pieces in the collection. Kanzenberg says the work is based on the famous (and perhaps apocryphal) story of William Boyce’s encounter with the Unknown Scout while lost in the London fog. This piece later inspired a series of calendar illustrations for the BSA, which is a major focus of the show. “The Scout helps Boyce find his way, and he incorporates Scouting in the United States,” Kanzenberg says. “It’s perhaps not historically accurate, but it’s inspiring.”
WE, TOO, HAVE A JOB TO DO (1942): Commissioned for the 1944 Brown & Bigelow BSA calendar, it’s one of Rockwell’s iconic World War II images. “This is arguably one of the most recognizable pieces in the exhibit,” says Kanzenberg. “It emphasizes the important role that Scouts played in the war effort with organized paper drives, blood drives, and other initiatives.” She notes that as with most of Rockwell’s work on Scout calendars, this canvas would have been completed some two years before the public saw it.
FRIEND IN NEED (1947): Rockwell’s illustrations for Scouting usually emphasized the BSA’s principles and practices. In this one, Scouts perform first-aid activities on an injured (and amazingly patient) beagle. Dogs became a recurring subject with Rockwell, Kanzenberg says. “At least two other works use the same idea. “His dogs often accompanied him to his studios, and many photos show them sitting next to him. He was particularly fond of beagles.”
GROWTH OF A LEADER (1964): Rockwell frequently used friends and neighbors as models for his work. In this canvas, a Vermont neighbor named James “Buddy” Edgerton shows up as three of the four figures. And the Cub Scout is Edgerton’s son (by the way, none of Rockwell’s three sons were Scouts). Edgerton went on to write a memoir titled The Unknown Rockwell: A Portrait of Two American Families, about a farm boy growing up next door to the artist.