Family for Sale: (un)building Rockwell’s America.
By Brenda Keesal.
Do you want to know a secret?
Norman Rockwell battled depression his whole life. According to his longtime shrink Erik Erikson, the iconic American painter, most famous for his folksylicious portraits of the happy American family, painted his happiness, but did not live it.
From 1916 through the 60’s, Rockwell cranked out 323 cheer-worthy covers for the popular Saturday Evening Post.
Much of his fabled brand of domestic bliss set the bar insanely high for our flailing families, and I’ll wager it helped to feed the beast of social pretense, Hollywood escapism and closeted misery that is all-the-rage in today’s home decor.
The need to keep up with the Rockwells chews at the soul of a family. Failure to keep up admits inferiority, defeat. Revealing who we really are is scary.
In the suburban 1970s, at faithful department stores across America, Family Portraiture and its platitude of posing trumped Rockwell art as the photographic equivalent of manufactured happiness. Fake wood, grinding smiles and air-brushed teeth.
Flash-forward to the summer of 2012, when I nabbed an original Family Portrait, circa ’76, at a small-town American garage sale.
It captured the classic snow-white clan in all its patented glory — with shimmering blond hair, sky-blue eyes and button noses that dazzled my hairy, schnozzled ethnicity, and made me feel a strange longing for something I’d never been.
I only had plans to doodle over the mock background — to offer a gilded, wall-papered home for this flawless family.
But here’s what happened instead:
Writer and filmmaker Brenda Keesal juggles multiple projects for cross-pollinating platforms about life, death, love and art. She blogs at Burns the Fire and lives in Montreal.