Thursday, February 27, 2014

HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT: The Other People in Norman Rockwell's America by Jane Allen Petrick (Review & Giveaway)

The Other People in Norman Rockwell's America
Jane Allen Petrick
Informed Decisions Publishing; October 8, 2013
Paperback and e-book, 143 pages
Non-fiction, biography, art,  
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Despite the enormous appeal enjoyed by his works for their reflection of the American culture, Norman Rockwell remains one of the most underappreciated and misunderstood artists of our age. The mid-century division between 'high art' and 'pop culture'  didn't serve him well: the elitist idea that the use of popular imagery could not possibly be defined 'art' was still broadly accepted by mainstream artists and serious art critics, that same   intelligentsia that dismissed Rockwell's illustrations as bourgeous and often kitschy.  The general attitude toward a more 'democratic' representation of reality (both in its subjects and means of distribution) was, at that time, heavily marked by disdain, even when it became impossible to ignore Rockwell's incredible talent. His brilliant technique was  nothing short of a Salvador Dali, but according to Nabokov, one of his fiercest detractors, it was being  put to a banal use. 

If you happen to stand on that side of the fence when it comes to Rockwell's art, you may want to consider this iconic artist and his quintessentially American illustrations from a different angle and uncover, beyond the seemingly idealistic and sentimentalized portrayal of everyday life scenarios, a much deeper truth about the man and the artist who brought those images to life. In her well-researched study, Hidden In Plain Sight: The Other People In Norman Rockwell's America, Jane Allen Petrick argues that, beneath the overly sweet, small-town America iconography, made of grandmas, Santas, and freckled boy scouts, lays a more subtle and socially  charged message. Something in between a memoir and an insightful social study, Petrick's biography demonstrates how Rockwell used his art to deliver an ante-litteram message of ethnic tolerance and multiculturalism. 

While it is true that the centerpiece of his artistic production focused on everyday life scenarios that served as magazine covers during his five-decade-long collaboration with The Saturday Evening Post, critics have been stubbornly and blatantly overlooking Rockwell's attention to more relevant subjects such as racism, civil rights, war on poverty. It was interesting to learn how his artistic expression was largely limited by his publisher's policy: the magazine covers could show minorities only if portrayed in menial positions. That would explain why a shift in Rockwell's choice of topics coincided with the interruption of his relationship with The Post. A new collaboration with a more progressive magazine (The Look) allowed him to turn his attention to more relevant issues and openly depict his concerns in matter of social justice. 

Brief and insightful, Petrick's study documents the neglected truth about one of the most innovative artists of the 20th century.

***Review copy graciously offered by the author in return for an unbiased and honest opinion
***Photo credit:

The Problem We All Live With
New Kids In The Neighborhood
Love Ouanga
Glen Canyon Dam
Working On The Statue Of Liberty
Boy in a Dining Cat
Murder in Mississippi


"A fresh and well-researched study of artist Norman Rockwell's treatement of race." - Kirkus

Norman Rockwell’s America was not all white. As early as 1936, Rockwell was portraying people of color with empathy and a dignity often denied them at the time. And he created these portraits from live models.

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America unfolds, for the first time, the stories of the Asian, African, and Native Americans who modeled for Norman Rockwell. These people of color, though often hidden in plain sight, are present throughout Rockwell’s more than 4000 illustrations. People like the John Lane family, Navajos poignantly depicted in the virtually unknown Norman Rockwell painting, “Glen Canyon Dam.” People like Isaac Crawford, a ten year old African-American Boy Scout who helped Norman Rockwell finally integrate the Boy Scout calendar.

In this engrossing and often humorous narrative, Jane Allen Petrick explores what motivated Norman Rockwell to slip people of color “into the picture” in the first place. And in so doing, she persuasively documents the famous illustrator’s deep commitment to and pointed portrayals of ethnic tolerance, portrayals that up to now have been, as Norman Rockwell biographer Laura Claridge so clearly put it, “bizarrely neglected”.

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America is an eye opener for everyone who loves Norman Rockwell, everyone who hates Norman Rockwell and for all those people in between who never thought much about Norman Rockwell because they believed Norman Rockwell never thought much about them. This book will expand the way you think about Norman Rockwell. And it will deepen the way you think about Norman Rockwell's America.

Jane Allen Petrick

A copy of Hidden in Plain Sight is up for grabs. Use the Rafflecopter widget below for a chance to win. Good luck!



  1. Thanks for taking part in the tour! I'm glad you enjoyed Hidden in plain Sight so much!

    1. Thank you and Ms. Petrick for the opportunity to read it, Teddy! Hidden in Plain Sight is such an informative read. I definitely recommend it!