Sunday, October 3, 2010

The bed of Procrustes: Norman Rockwell on education in the Soviet Union, circa 1965

Norman Rockwell was a member of the Monday Evening Club from 1961 until his death in 1978.  In this paper, delivered about 1965 following Rockwell's visit to the Soviet Union in December 1963, Rockwell concludes by saying that he "never did paint" the picture he intended to do, juxtaposing U.S. and Soviet country classrooms. However, in 1967 he completed for Look magazine a picture called "Russian Schoolroom," (above) which later was stolen from a gallery in Missouri in 1973. In 1989, it turned up in the collection of film director Steven Spielberg (a noted Rockwell collector and longtime supporter of the Norman Rockwell Museum), and eventually became the subject of a complex legal tangle with possible connections to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. The case was resolved in 2010 with the painting being awarded to Newport R.I. art dealer Judith Goffman Cutler. 

This paper is transcribed from an undated manuscript in the collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. The title "Bed of Procrustes" is written on the envelope in which it was originally contained, along with the words "ad lib."  In this transcription,  spelling and punctuation is generally left as it is in the original.
 
The Club is grateful for the assistance of Corry Kanzenburg and Jessika Drmacich of the collections staff at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. for providing access to the manuscript of this and other papers Rockwell presented to the Club, to the museum's director, Laurie Norton Moffatt, for alerting us to their existence (via a Facebook comment!) and to the Norman Rockwell Licensing Company for permission to publish the papers. 

Licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL.

A year ago last December my wife and I journeyed to Moscow.  I was going as a specialist for the United States Information Service [sicactually the U.S. Information Agency].  My job was to work with our half of an exchange exhibit of graphic art.

I had a project.  This of course, was in addition to my work with the graphic show.

My project was to illustrate with a picture, or pictures, the elementary schools of Russia.  Look magazine was definitely interested so I made my inquiries among our personnel at the exhibit and also at the American embassy.  They, in turn, put in a request that I meet the minister of education in Moscow.

Things move slowly in Moscow — at least for an American with a project.  Not only is there a vast bureaucracy, but there is an amazingly devious procedure that just can not be cut short.  Then, too, there’s an atmosphere of mutual distrust.

After some weeks I was given an interview with the assistant minister and stated what I wanted to do.  I told him I wanted to paint a small country school, and its students, that would be comparable to just such a school in America, and that I wanted to do it honestly and fairly, as a way toward mutual understanding.  His associates were most smiling and amiable, and said that there were no small country schools near Moscow, but that they would arrange that I should visit an  elementary school.  I was very happy, we all bowed, and I left the massive building which was just off “Red Square.”  Two or three weeks later I hadn’t heard.  Then I talked to my embassy and exhibition friends and they laughed and said, “You’ll never hear from them.” But I was sure they were wrong because the officials had been so amiable and cooperative. Then another week went by and I began to get a bit restless.