What do George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have in common with millions of Scouts and Scouters? These great American filmmakers both love and admire the work of Norman Rockwell, who spent decades illustrating stories and painting covers for Boys’ Life and the annual Brown & Bigelow Boy Scouts calendars.
Rockwell’s Spirit of America (1929) represents just one artistic highlight of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s exhibition and catalog.
Of course, when your movies have brought in billions of dollars, you can do more than just admire an artist: Lucas and Spielberg have long been major collectors of Rockwell’s work.
Now you can see a sizable portion of those collections at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. The filmmakers, who teamed up on the popular Indiana Jones series, have aligned again—this time to arrange the loan of 57 of their Rockwell paintings and drawings for an exhibition that opened in July.
Exploring the relationships between Rockwell’s images of American life and the movies, the exhibition showcases the artist’s ability to distill a narrative into a single frame—a characteristic that inspired both Lucas and Spielberg as they contemplated careers in filmmaking.
As did the Boy Scouts, in Spielberg’s case. “When I went for a Photography merit badge, I made a little 8mm movie,” the Eagle Scout says. “And the Boy Scouts in my troop—294, Scottsdale, Ariz.—liked the movie, made a lot of noise, laughed, clapped, and all that. I got that great virus of ‘I’ve got to do this the rest of my life.’”
Lucas, who started collecting comic art as a kid, adds that “growing up on Rockwell” gave him an edge as he entered the movie business because of the artist’s ability to “cast” a painting.
“They’re designed, they’re written, and they’re put in there very specifically,” he says of the people Rockwell used in his artworks. “Each one—their faces, their expressions, their thinking—everything about them has been cast. That’s what you do in the movies. He’s fabricating a story.”
See “Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell From the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg” before it closes Jan. 2, 2011. Admission is free, and you can find more details at americanart.si.edu. It’s a perfect opportunity to view the art that “captured society’s ambitions and emotions,” says Lucas.