Play Ball! Celebrating Sixty Years of Norman Rockwell’s “The Oculist”

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Don Viar, Museum Educator, with St. Mary’s Tour. “The Oculist,” Norman Rockwell, 1956, Oil on Canvas.

HAGERSTOWN, MD – Norman Rockwell (1894-1987) became one of America’s best known, and best loved artists, largely as a result of the 322 covers that he created for the Saturday Evening Post between 1916 and 1963. A careful observer of human emotions and behavior, Rockwell successfully captured the seemingly spontaneous events of daily life through the faces, poses, and actions of people that he knew personally. Yet, as this exhibition shows, Rockwell’s method was far from spontaneous. Working over a period of several weeks, Rockwell frequently captured variations of his compositions through staged photographs that he then meticulously reworked through drawings and oil sketches before finalizing his compositional story on canvas.

Completed in 1955, Rockwell’s painting of “The Oculist” debuted on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on May 19, 1956. The painting was acquired by the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts (WCMFA) in 1957, through direct correspondence between the museum’s then director, Bruce Etchison, and the artist himself. Noting that the museum “sounds like just the sort of place where I would like to be represented,” Rockwell agreed to sell the painting directly to the museum at a significantly lower price than usual.

Since its debut on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, “The Oculist” has been a favorite of both Rockwell enthusiasts and baseball fans, young and old. Featuring original documents related to the creation and acquisition of the painting, as well as rarely seen photographs of studio models and compositional stage sets taken by Norman Rockwell himself, this very special 60th anniversary “focus show” tells the story of how the painting was originally conceived and created, and how it became a treasured highlight of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts collection.

On Sunday afternoon, June 19, the WCMFA will present a public program featuring guest speaker Dr. Virginia Mecklenburg, Chief Curator of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). A specialist on American art and culture, Dr. Mecklenburg served as curator and primary catalogue author for SAAM’s 2010 exhibition, “Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.” To celebrate the WCMFA painting “The Oculist, Dr. Mecklenburg will present an illustrated lecture on the topic Seeing America with Norman Rockwell.

The exhibition is organized by the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in partnership with the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The exhibition is sponsored in part by Anne G. & Howard S. Kaylor, Conservit, Inc. and Mr. & Mrs. Peter Franchot.

For more information on the Museum, please phone 301-739-5727 or visit www.wcmfa.org. Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm, Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm, and Sunday from 1 pm to 5 pm.