Norman Rockwell and Mark Twain are icons in the world of art and literature and their fascinating lives are being intertwined in an exciting new exhibit opening this week at Hartford’s Mark Twain House and Museum. Running through September 6, the day after Labor Day, the show will include paintings, illustrations, prints and sketches that unite the artist and the writer in significant ways.
This unique exhibition will include rare viewings such as two original oil paintings by Rockwell from The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri, sixteen limited edition prints of Rockwell illustrations of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” from the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and a set of limited edition lithographs of Rockwell’s pencil drawings commissioned by MassMutual Financial Group for a national advertising campaign.
A special section of the exhibit is entitled “Innocence at Home” and ties the artist’s visually comic views with the writer’s clever narratives, reflecting on childhood and the slightly mischievous way each man experienced daily life. As pranksters who always saw the humor in a situation, both men exemplified the Peter Pan principle of never quite growing up.
In the exhibit, you’ll see such gems as “Girl with Black Eye,” a proud tomboy awaiting her punishment outside the principal’s office and “Boy Reading Sister’s Diary” where a freckle faced lad sits at his sister’s dressing table, gleefully being privy to her most secret thoughts. Both men created fantasies of how they wanted life to be, what they felt childhood should be. Their perceptions were formed by Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post magazine covers and by Mark Twain’s writings of growing up in America’s mid-west.
With humor and a playful sense of adventure, each man embraced pranks and tomfoolery as a respected way of life, whether it involved conniving friends to whitewash a fence and pay you for the privilege, swinging a dead cat to scare and make curses or fishing with a bamboo pole instead of going to school. The two oil paintings on display are Tom Sawyer Sneaking out a Window (1935) and King and Duke on a Raft (1940) from Rockwell’s work immortalizing Twain’s two most beloved books. Also available for viewing are First Day Issue Stamps from 1972, Tom Sawyer Whitewashing the Fence, and a selection of china plates.
Both men used pets and animals to “comment on human behavior” and Rockwell, who created over 4000 pictures, was called the Mark Twain of American illustration. He liked to record “average people doing average things.” According to Patti Philippon, chief curator at the museum who was at the heart of creating the exhibit, “Both Rockwell and Twain gave an idealized picture of American childhood. There are many links in their tricks and methods of storytelling, producing pictures and words carefully calculated to evoke emotion. And both were masters at marketing their own public images. Both men are woven into the fabric of American life.”
Admission to The Mark Twain House and Museum, 351 Farmington Avenue, Hartford is $16 for adults, $14 for seniors and $10 for children. The show can also be viewed by visitors for the $6 museum only fee. For information, call 860-247-0998 or online at www.marktwainhouse.org.
Special events include Tom Sawyer Day on Saturday, June 11 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn pretend they are pirates. This is a free family day filled with activities and performances.
Make a date to visit the “American Storytellers: Norman Rockwell and Mark Twain” and be charmed by this rare collection of items that illuminate their life and times and joys of childhood.