Took a spring road trip up to Massachusetts last week and, along with some nice hiking and wandering through towns, visited the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. I'd never been before, though I realized I'd gotten to see many Rockwell paintings in person at the Guggenheim years ago. I was very impressed then, and I still am. Plus there were paintings that I hadn't seen in the NY show, and some fun sketches.
What I especially liked at the museum was an exhibition of the 1950s American illustrator Mac Conner, one of the 'original Mad Men'. From the curator: "He made his career at a time when New York dominated American publishing and advertising, and illustration defined the graphic look of the industry. From the pages of magazines like Collier's, Woman's Home Companion and Redbook, Conner and his fellow commercial artists popularized an image of postwar America-- newly prosperous, redolent with middle-class family values, and populated by glamorous, strikingly homogenous people."
That basically says it- not exactly a fully representative look at the era- yet you can't help but be swept away by these images and the stories they tell, either by what they include or what they omit, like the show "Mad Men" to which the curators refer. Seeing these hand-drawn illustrations in person is a treat for me, because they are really fine, not throwaway sketches. The limitations imposed by printers and layout pushed these illustrators to fresh ways of picture-making that I admire and have tried in my own painting- for example, using black, white and one other color to great effect. For their part, they were influenced by illustrators like Leyendecker who preceded them.
A collection of art by Joe de Mers, another prolific illustrator of that time, is part of this exhibition, and both are up through June 19. The Conner show was organized by the Museum of the City of New York and I see they did this retrospective there in 2014- how did that pass me by? Glad I happened to visit Stockbridge MA and got to see it. Visit the links or search Mac Conner to see lots of images, as I only took a few photos before closing time.