For such a supposedly vanilla artist, Norman Rockwell elicits strong reactions from viewers, who swoon at his vision of small-town life that never was, or hold their nose at his saccharine depictions of school kids in ponytails, stern but grandfatherly cops, and ubiquitous soda fountains.
The large and comprehensive Norman Rockwell Museum (9 Rte. 183, 413/298-4100, www.nrm.org , 10 a.m.–5 p.m. daily May–Oct.; 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri. and 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Sat.–Sun. Nov.–Apr., $15 adults, $13.50 seniors, $10 students, free children under 19), however, may surprise viewers who think they know the artist from his Life magazine covers. Among the many paintings on exhibit is the serious series that Rockwell did on civil rights, including a haunting depiction of the three civil rights workers killed in Mississippi.
Behind the Norman Rockwell Museum is the artist’s barn studio (open May–Oct.), preserved almost identically to the time when Rockwell painted here, and containing the artists’ chair, brushes, and palette, along with his humorous collection of old military rifles and helmets.