In the News

Copying an American Original

April 15, 2008, Lexington Herald-Leader

A policeman and a kid in a diner having a chat. Tell people it's called The Runaway. Lots of ideas come to mind if you've just got that to go on. But put on the red knapsack nearby and figure it's 1958 and you'll know that you are seeing this cop and this kid and this diner through the bespectacled eyes of American artist Norman Rockwell.

But if you're in fifth grade right now, you probably don't.

Because 1958 might as well be 1492 and Norman Rockwell could very well be Kid Rock's dad, for all you know.
So when Providence Montessori School art teacher Cindy McMorris set out to bridge the gap of 50 years between a famous Rockwell painting and her fifth-grade students, she started very simply.

She asked Lexington police officer Tyson Cummings to come in, take a seat, and she let the kids sketch him. And she let them ask questions.

They did not want to know about runaways. Or 1958.

They wanted to know about all the stuff he was wearing and about his job - he's a D.A.R.E officer. He just sat, with his hands on his knees for an hour and answered whatever they asked.

Their artistic interpretations of Cummings vary, none feeling bound by the Rockwell model because, well, McMorris said they didn't have to.

Asked how it made them feel to be given that much artistic latitude, the class pondered the question carefully, yet they were silent.

Finally, this: "I felt good because I was not in math or English," said Henry Hesseldenz.

Ah, yes, art, the great alternative career.

Still, McMorris was looking for more from this art experiment. After all, they were going to exhibit their works this Friday.
So the class was taken to Giacomo's Deli - thanks to fifth grader Sammy Jo's dad who owns it - to get a feel for a luncheonette, sort of like the one in Rockwell's painting.

This was, to hear the kids tell it, the true moment of artistic bonds being loosed as evidenced by the many interpretations of menu choices visible in the different renderings.

Exclaimed Will Schein with unbridled joy: "You get to choose the menu you would put up in your picture."

Later, it was divulged he wants to be a chef when he grows up, but his wasn't the only enthusiastic voice on this newfound menu freedom. In one student's menu, a simple "steak" offering bespoke a minimalist bent. In another's a menu of pricey and multitudinous choices, filling a large part of the tempura-painted canvas, called forth a kind of Jackson Pollock approach.

Fifth grader Thomas Ueland's canvas depicted a diner where "Kids Eat Free," suggesting a Warholesque revivalist spirit.

All were artistic choices.

Don't laugh. Every artist makes them.

Look at Rockwell's. The color of the bar stools. The position of the radio. The brand of radio. The look of bemusement on the counterman's face. The variable height of the child's socks on his ankles. And, yes, the things on the policeman's uniform.

McMorris keeps the spent yogurt containers full of paint. The brushes are kept clean. There is no lecturing in art class, only the exhortation that this is a wonderful way to learn about yourself and "experience this piece of art in your own way."

In other classrooms in other circumstances, McMorris has used this lesson plan. She is always surprised at the outcome. Some children have never met a policeman before. Some do not have much familiarity with art.

But some, like this class, are lucky to have art in their lives every day.

When asked about that, they all raise their hands to tell you about the art they live with. The pictures of the great landmarks of Paris in Lydia Newton's bedroom. The fairies hanging from Lindsey Diggins' bedroom ceilings. The trees and a hammock that spell out the 'A' in Emma Pederson's name. The picture Tolan Franklin's Dad painted.

And how the art on the walls in Leland Allen's own Norman Rockwell-inspired diner are his own homage to work he has long admired in, yes, one of our finest art galleries, one he spent much time with, Guitar Hero III.

Reach Amy Wilson at (859) 231-3305 or 1-800-950-6397 ext 3305.

IF YOU GO
Student show during Gallery Hop
When: 5 to 8 p.m., Friday.
Where: Giacomo's Deli, 133 N. Limestone. The exhibit will be on display during regular business hours through May.
Cost: Free.

 

A part of history

Providence Montessori art teacher Cindy McMorris has always known about the art of Norman Rockwell. Her mother, once a 6-year-old Brooklyn girl who modeled, posed for the famous artist. The result was an iconic 1944 depiction of a small girl holding out her doll's arm so the doctor could check its pulse.

Doctor and Doll, which is usually housed at the Norman Rockwell museum in Stockbridge, Mass., is currently on tour throughout the United States.

In an e-mail, Barbara Hayman Schwartz, McMorris' mother, said she remembers that Doctor and Doll was commissioned as artwork for an Upjohn Pharmaceuticals ad.

"(Rockwell) asked me to bring a doll and scuffed up shoes and to wear a dress I liked. Because as a model you never had scuffed up shoes my mom said we didn't have any. He said not to worry, just bring a pair of regular school shoes and he would paint them to look scuffed up."

Schwartz' dress was also red which, apparently, was not what Rockwell had imagined either.

Sadly, Schwartz also remembers that the old man who posed as the doctor died tragically a few weeks after the sitting.

But he, like she, is immortalized by Rockwell, still gazed upon enthusiasts, collectors, museum-goers and the occasional unsuspecting fifth-grader.

AMY WILSON