Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Norman Rockwell and the Art of Scouting

I'm going to say this first thing: If you are in the Dallas area, you want a wonderful attraction that includes a significantly large collection of Norman Rockwell paintings, exhibits and interactive activities, all with free admission (Sundays and Mondays; admission other days), check out the National Scouting Museum in Irving on Walnut Ridge Road, near MacArthur Blvd.

And check it out fast because in May the non-art part of the museum is moving to Cimarron, NM and to the Philmont Scout Camp.

Rick, his mom and I visited this before he and I headed home. This post is in two parts and the first focuses on the art collection. You'll see numerous photos of Rockwell art in this post. If the topic interests you, check out the photo captions for more details.

The Scoutmaster was painted in 1954. The scouts had him go back and revamp the tents because his first time through the sides of the tents were missing (like an Army tent). The scout tents have narrow sides at the bottom of the A-frame
 Many Norman Rockwell originals are included along with art by Joseph Cstari, artist for the scouts.

The blog Illustration Art posted their answer to the difference between fine art and illustration. From the point of the writer, there is no difference apart from the way the artist is paid. (Often fine art is done with no direct buyer in line, while illustration tends to be done for magazines, books or other printed material and the artist is paid by the job. There are, of course exceptions.)

(By the way, if you are into this, check out the article. It's pretty interesting!)

I didn't get the name on this one but our guide reminded us that the eyes of the two scouts in front tend to follow you no matter where you stand. And yes, they do.
I was glad to read this because I sometimes hear illustrators put down and it is so unfair. Their work tells stories and in the case of Norman Rockwell (and Joseph Cstari) no one can say the work is shoddy.

"Mighty Proud" shows a young scout moving up from Cubs into his Boy Scout uniform. You can tell the family is as thrilled as he is!
 Norman Rockwell has always been a favorite of mine. He captures the human spirit in fine detail -- the joys, the concerns, the pleasures and the perils of life.

"Forward America" was an illustration for the 1951 Brown & Bigelow Boy Scout calendar. It is unique in portraying scouts from different programs offered at the time -- Explorer, Cub, Boy Scout, Air Scout and Sea Scout (the latter two now defunct).

He is perhaps best known for his illustrations in Saturday Evening Post but I didn't know his first job was doing art for the Boy Scouts. He did numerous pieces of calendar art, including Boy Scout Calendars for the Brown and Bigelow company, among his other projects.

Rockwell's life wasn't a particularly happy one. He suffered from depression and his second wife also spent time in a psychiatric clinic. His work was dismissed by serious art critics until later in his life and his work was often considered sentimental, idealistic and "not serious." It wasn't until later in his life when he chose more serious subjects for his work that he began to claim a wider respect.

I am a sucker for Rockwell's work, having tried with little success to paint something with the complete detail, soul and personality that would be a worthy try. (Maybe it isn't my style or medium but oh, I love it!) I love the heart and energy and sheer joy.

I loved that he used the people he knew as his models and painted from photographs, often setting up an elaborate scene or going out into the field to set the stage.

"Men of Tomorrow" was an oil done for the 1948 calendar. The Cub Scout in the foreground was modeled by Peter Rockwell, the artist's younger son. His next-door neighbor was featured as well, posing for six figures. He held hiking poses in the studio while posing on wooden plants to simulate the walking effect. He was paid five dollars for his work. Our guide told us that the first figure was doing the tradition scout "good deed" by carrying the hat of the boy carrying the canoe. He also explained that some Rockwell's have the script signature, not his preferred version in his later work..
We enjoyed a number of his paintings at the musem. Our guide, 90-year-old Paul Ernst, had met Rockwell during his many years working with the Boy Scouts. If you happen to stop by (we went on a free Monday), I hope you have the opportunity to meet this remarkable man. He knew the work, he knew the stories, he knew the myths and the methods. We couldn't have asked for anyone more personable or knowledgeable to be our guide.

For example, check out the texture on this painting. Traditionally Rockwell painted in a very smooth style.

But here you will note texture and use of the palette knife in the clouds and ground.

He also pointed out to us that while Rockwell had two signatures, the block letters here were his preferred version.

The artist often included dogs in his paintings and not surprisingly many of those he used were his own.

I loved this piece, "The Homecoming," capturing the family's enthusiasm as they welcome their home from camp. Note the energy, the partial leg and skirt of someone at the top of the steps. And if you look carefully, you will see that the step angle changes somewhat from top to bottom. Clearly, he was working from two different photos for the steps.

I really loved the detail on the wallpaper.

And check out the detail on the arm patch.

Of course, it had a Lizzie cat, so what's not to love?

Rockwell worked for the Boy Scouts and also did art for their handbooks. If you note in the photo below, the book cover is not yet painted. He hadn't decided what he wanted to do.


Here is the finished version as it appeared on the handbook.

Then there was this one, another calendar piece.

You can see the tips of the shoes, the humanity of the aging sailor...

and the detail of the globe.

Detail. Rockwell does it well. Rick had me be sure to capture this painting. (Pictured as a detail)Note the fingernails. They've been out and about!

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't show some of the work of another artist who worked with the Scouts after Rockwell. Joseph Cstari is, I think, his equal in skill.

There isn't quite enough art to catch the "heart" of the work. I won't say it doesn't exist, but I see these less as telling a story than as illustrating a point.

But done well indeed.

So, two thumbs up and a big Boy Scout salute to this museum. But if you want to see this collection, get there soon!

Not a scouting painting, yet one of my favorites!
And ask for Paul!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Big Celebration, Part Two

As you saw in part one of this post, we were preparing for Kitty's 80th birthday party held at her church. I won't fill up with loads of stuff because we'll share our photos but I wanted to just show you a few of my favorites.

Our day started with finishing up Randy's cake. It weighed about 35 pounds and there was about a third left over. I hope someone remembered to freeze it!

Meanwhile, the kitchen was a hub of activity as the caterers were making papusas, an El Salvadoran dish similar to a quesadilla and we were busy setting out the fruit salad, punch and other items.

When done, we headed to the church next door for a lovely service.

I found the building elegant in its simplicity and the stained glass was beautiful.

The back to the hall for the party. A good sized crowd of more than 70  of all ages joined in the festivities.

The food was plentiful -- papusa, spaghetti, cole slaw, fruit and of course cake!

There was lots of memory sharing prompted in part by the slide show of photos from the past. Rick (below) spoke often of the time he was at Boy Scout camp in New Mexico and his mother sent him a cake for his sixteenth birthday in the mail.

There were plenty of hugs.

And a song from the the children in the youth group. Then Kitty introduced her boys.

Cake time! (We opted for a nice selection of pretty candles rather than making her blow out all 80!)

Then it was time to blow out the candles! and I think she got them all!

After the clean up, those of us who hadn't flown away went to a pub near our hotels. Let me just say that if you are in Irving, TX and see a pub called 10 Downing Street in a plaza on Walnut Ridge with a Boston Market in the plaza, stay very far away. The food came in batches over a half hour (they never told us they only had one fryer) and was cold when it came. The waitress made herself scarce. And apart from three at the bar, we were the only people there! Still, we managed to have a great conversation and of course, do the restaurant selfie!

All in all, a glorious time, and a wonderful tribute to a terrific woman.

Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Big Celebration, Part One

 So, how do you celebrate an 80th birthday?

When you are Rick's mom, Kitty, the main thing is to be surrounded by your tribe -- and if there's a party (or two) involved, all the better!

Kitty's birthday took Rick and me to Dallas, Texas where we were joined by his four brothers and their wives for several glorious days of family. Dallas was far from where they'd grown up. Kitty hailed from Toledo and they lived there through Rick's high school years before moving to Michigan. When the boys were grown, they took off for points south.

Those of us who arrived by Friday evening enjoyed a wonderful dinner at a restaurant called Via Real. Their specialty was Mexican food and we certainly weren't disappointed. We needed good fortification for the next morning's activities -- and they involved cleaning and party planning!

Our gang met at the church where Kitty's Sunday birthday party would be held. Everyone had their tasks. Rick took one look at the filthy folding chairs and said, "I need ammonia!"

He and his brother Jeff tackled turning 70 pretty grim looking white chairs into chairs that looked like new. They were glad when reinforcements joined them!

Inside, we were decorating!

Kitty's favorite color is turquoise blue so the tables were covered with that color. Then we added colorful bags stuffed with even more colorful tissue, a jolly balloon and table tents made from photos all the brothers had sent to me and mounted on watercolored card stock.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, brother Randy was making the carrot cake to end all carrot cakes!

The ingredients included eight pounds of browned butter, about eight of cream cheese, four pounds of carrots, around a pound of sugar, several pounds of flour and a pound of walnuts, not to mention raisins and spices.

After awhile, we were realizing it takes a village to bake a cake -- at least one this big. Of course when the village is adding things sometimes you think something has been added that didn't quite make it. I'm not sure anyone but us noticed that the middle layer of the cake was lacking its sugar!

The finished cake would be three layers tall, baked in those foil roasting pans. And maybe the birthday girl shouldn't have had her hand in her own cake till serving time -- but Kitty is a master cake decorator and she couldn't help it!

By the time all was said and done, we would have seven tables of ten set up, birthday banners hanging, a bulletin board decorated and counters for the food buffet covered. Considering that we were in an area that wasn't one we were familiar with and none of our own entertaining tools available, and that it was in a church hall and they are never warm and cozy, we were reasonably pleased with the result! By the time it filled with people, no one noticed anyway!

(Later that night Rick and his brother would bring in the super-sized TV for the slide show that would play throughout the evening.) We were ready for a break!

But what we were really ready for was the special party -- that night's dinner with just the family, all celebrating Kitty. It was held at Bruno's Restaurant in Irving/Los Colinos area of Dallas.

Kitty pretty much raised the five boys single handedly in Toledo, a young working mother. Five boys in a bit over seven years.

And from hearing the stories these guys told, we all have a lot of respect for what she managed to turn out!

Every one of the boys (for they will always be her boys) did well for themselves in terms of family and life. They all acknowledge it was a pretty hardscrabble existence, yet they all managed to succeed.

There were many toasts and loads of story telling.

Some of the stories I'm not sure Kitty had ever heard before!

And for all of us, it was a chance to relax and connect with family.

The evening was capped off with the arrival of the birthday cake and the birthday song -- even the waiters and chef joined in.

Pretty much everyone said that the family dinner was the highlight of the weekend. Simply being together, paying tribute to a woman without whom they'd not exist, was truly the best gift for Kitty -- and it was a pretty darned good one for ourselves, too!

When all was said and done it was time to head home and prepare for the next day -- but first, a photo moment.

Kitty and her boys.

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