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April Fools’! Rockwell Museum to Shift Acquisition Strategy to Only Norman Rockwell Art

Norman Rockwell portrait, 1921

This post was scheduled on April 1, 2021. Also known as April Fool’s Day. Thanks everyone for playing along.

The Rockwell Museum in Corning is named for Bob and Hertha Rockwell, generous philanthropists who gifted their diverse collection to be accessible to the community they loved. In short, the Museum has no association with Norman Rockwell. Learn more about our story

Beginning May 1, The Rockwell Museum in Corning will shift its strategy away from telling the story of the American experience through art, and towards the story of a singular artist-Norman Rockwell. The artist was made popular by his illustrations for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post over a span of 5 decades (source: Wikipedia).

“The Trip Advisor reviews say it all,” says Brian Lee Whisenhunt, Executive Director and primary advocate for the change. “Beautiful museum. Gorgeous building. Fabulous display of diverse American Art. Not Norman Rockwell. 1 STAR. I’m over it. It’s time to just lean in and shift toward the common public perception.”

While public interest in Norman Rockwell had been waning, Lana Del Ray’s album released in 2019, Norman #$&%* Rockwell, brought the name back into the spotlight. The musician traveled to the Museum incognito for publicity, planning to post a photo of herself surrounded by Norman Rockwell artworks to her fans on Instagram. The disappointed Tweet that followed flooded The Rockwell’s social media accounts with angry Lana Del Ray fans–this marked the beginning of conversations around changing the Museum’s direction in earnest.

Because of the pandemic, much of the Museum’s acquisition planning has been put on pause. Despite the shift in strategy, the spending pause is still in place. Beginning May 1, all other works will be de-installed, and the Museum will prominently feature one work by Norman Rockwell in the collection–The Buffalo Hunt, a 20 x 32 inch, black and white oil painting acquired in 1978, a gift of Robert F. Rockwell III. The painting has not been on view at the Museum for several years.

Black and white illustration, native man on horseback hunting buffalo with bow and arrow

Norman Rockwell, The Buffalo Hunt, c. 1914. Oil on canvas, 20 x32 in. Gift of Robert F. Rockwell III. 78.52 F.

Rockwell created this painting early in his career as an illustration for the book The Red Arrow (1915) by Elmer Russell Gregor. The story inspiration reads: The spirit of the chase had seized him, and he rode recklessly into the great company of crowding buffaloes.

“I can assure you, unlike the painting, we are not riding recklessly into this decision. We felt it best to implement the change before the tourist season this summer. I believe it will be very poignant,” says Curator of Collection and Exhibitions Kirsty Buchanan. “All three floors, for now, will be dedicated to the celebration and interpretation of one work of art.”

“We considered also displaying works by Cleveland Salter Rockwell, a Hudson River School artist also represented in the Museum’s collection. However, we have found that the public is confused by more than one person having the same last name. We’ll reconsider displaying that work in the future.”

Professional rendering of future gallery changes.

April 2021 will be visitors’ last chance to see the Museum’s current collection of American art. All art and objects will be sold at auction, and the proceeds will be put towards a special fund for acquiring works by Norman Rockwell.

In the meantime, Rockwell educators will be creating school tours for docents, art projects stations and more inspired by Rockwell’s, The Buffalo Hunt. The Museum Store will be having a clearance sale soon to make room for Norman Rockwell-inspired shopping.

“Yes. We’re rebranding. Again. It’s cool. Cool, cool, cool. Everything’s fine,” says Marketing Manager Willa Vogel.

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