Norman Rockwell Art Exhibition Will Be Worth the Wait

The Rockwells are hanging at the Medici Museum, awaiting the day when the public can be let in to see them.

They were mounted on the walls of the Howland venue just as the shutdown of public places was taking effect to combat the coronavirus outbreak. The March 22 grand opening had to be delayed indefinitely.

It’s possible the museum will be allowed to reopen in May or June.

For art lovers from serious to casual who want to see the paintings, it will be worth the wait.

The paintings by the late Norman Rockwell complement each other and form a whole. And the exhibition connects with the viewer to a degree that is much greater than most.

The Medici acquired the 400-piece collection – which includes 65 Rockwells – earlier this year, on loan from the Boy Scouts of America. Each piece depicts a scene from the scouting life.

The collection also includes drawings by Walt Disney, but the Rockwells are the star, and all 65 are on display at the Medici. In fact, it’s the first time that all 65 paintings have been shown at the same time.

The paintings, created between the 1920s and 1970s, are from a more wholesome and not-so-distant past. Each brings the viewer into the moment.

That is part of Rockwell’s genius, and it’s one reason the small museum could become a Mecca for visitors from the scouting world and beyond.

The first thing you’ll notice is the Rockwell style, followed immediately by his obvious technical skill.

But more importantly, Rockwell is a storyteller.

As you study each lively painting, you can piece together what just transpired, and then grasp the emotion of the moment.

The titles tend to summarize the action.

In one, “Home from Camp,” a proud father greets his son, who is clad in his scout uniform and lugging a duffel bag. Mom and the family cat and dogs rush down the staircase to greet the returning scout.

Another, a famous piece titled “Can’t Wait,” shows a young boy wearing his big brother’s Boy Scout uniform. The clothes are way too big for him, but the look on the boy’s face says it all.

William Mullane, curator of the Medici, was tasked with arranging and displaying the exhibition. The long-time Valley arts educator and Trumbull Art Gallery director grouped the paintings along several themes: family, adherence to the scout code of honor, history and historical figures, adventure, helping others and scoutmasters.

Mullane will rearrange the paintings every eight months or so, and introduce new ones from the BSA collection. Interestingly, he also made the decision to hang each piece with its vertical center point 62 inches high, instead of the traditional 67 or 70 inches, which is common procedure for museums.

The purpose? To make it easier for Boy Scouts and young people to see them.

A side benefit, according to Mullane, is to enhance Rockwell’s penchant for placing the viewer directly in front of, or above, the subjects in the painting.

Ned Gold, the attorney and museum board member who tirelessly spearheaded the effort to land the collection, gets emotional when he talks about it.

“As a 70-year scouter, these are part of my life and to see all of them in one place is pretty overwhelming to me,” he said as he walked through the museum.

One painting, “The Tooth of Time,” stands out in the gallery as one of the largest.

It’s among the most awesome in terms of its scope and scenery, and it’s definitely the one that means the most to Gold.

It depicts a group of scouts coming upon the stunning Tooth of Time mountain peak while hiking in the BSA’s Philmont Ranch in New Mexico. Some of the scouts some turn their heads backward to shout to those behind them, while others are fixated by the spectacular sight and drawn toward it.

Gold notes that the painting may one day be used to keep the Tooth of Time in scout hands. The BSA is faced with a well-publicized flurry of pedophilia claims and declared bankruptcy earlier this year. The painting – in fact, the entire $100 million BSA collection – might have to be sold to pay off claims.

Gold hopes the BSA will be able to hold on to the Philmont Ranch. He has climbed the Tooth of Time multiple times with his son and other scouts.

“It’s on the Santa Fe Trail,” Gold says, noting that he grew up in Santa Fe, N.M.

John Anderson, president of Foundation Medici, which owns the museum, acknowledged that the BSA could be forced to sell all or part of the art collection as part of the bankruptcy proceedings.

The loan agreement with the BSA permits the Medici to loan the paintings to other museums as traveling exhibits. Such reciprocal arrangements would in turn bring works from those museums to the Medici for temporary display.

Gold points out that the tragic pedophile claims against scout leaders are part of a larger evil that exists in all parts of society, and do not define scouting.

“This exhibition reflects what scouting really is,” he said. The BSA, he noted, has done more than any other group to weed out pedophiles.

Once the Medici does reopen, it will of course have to abide by all social distancing and other measures designed to thwart the spread of COVID-19.

The museum has already discussed such plans, which would likely include issuing time-stamped tickets that would limit the number of people in the gallery.

Once it opens, the exhibition will undoubtedly draw great interest. It already is: Anderson has received several inquiries from scouting groups that want to visit.

And Beth Carmichael, executive director of the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau, will soon announce a large event at the facility that will bring in many visitors.

The Medici Museum of Art is a small facility that has never been a major stop in the art world.

Formerly known as the Trumbull Branch of the Butler Institute of American Art, the museum quietly opened in January with new management.

The Medici was forced to close in March because of the virus.

But when it reopens in a few weeks, it will be with a bang that will be heard far beyond the Mahoning Valley.