Montgomery, Pa. – After a recent acquisition that was years in the making, the Montgomery Area Historical Society is now one of only two museums in the country to house the complete collection of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms posters.
The last poster collected is Rockwell’s Freedom From Want poster, which features an elderly woman holding a cooked turkey with a man looking on. The table is set for a large family dinner and each person is smiling and waiting to eat. It is considered one of Rockwell’s finest works.
“Freedom of Want” completes the set of “The Four Freedoms," which Rockwell painted, According to Larry Stout, vice president of the Montgomery Area Historical Society. The society has each one framed and against the wall (opposite the street entrance) in the Adams Room, downstairs from the Montgomery Library.
Stout explained the history of the poster and how they acquired it to complete the collection, at a society meeting Thursday evening.
Between 1929 to 1941, it was a very “dark period for America and just a very sad time” as the Great Depression and World War II were in full motion, Stout said. As the war raged, President Franklin Roosevelt gave his 1941 presidential address. Stout said this was FDR’s way to encourage the citizens of Great Britain. At that time, the U.K. was the only country standing against Nazi Germany.
“We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms,” Roosevelt said. “The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want…The fourth is freedom from fear.”
This became known as the Four Freedoms speech. Stout showed slides of artists who had painted representations of them, but Rockwell wanted to do something more.
Rockwell was born in 1894 and would produce “more than 4,000 original works in his lifetime,” Stout said. “He was commissioned to illustrate more than 40 books, as well as painting the portraits of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.”
“Rockwell was best known for his Saturday Evening Post Covers,” Stout said. “The first was done in 1916 and would continue until 1963 – a total of 321 cover paintings.”
However, Stout said that Rockwell had hit a creative impasse.
“The artist struggled with how best to visualize the abstract concepts. (Rockwell said) ’I juggled the ‘Four Freedoms’ around in my mind, reading a sentence here, a sentence there, trying to find a picture, but it was so high-blown. Somehow I just couldn’t get my mind around it,’ ” Stout said.
Then Rockwell remembered a neighbor of his named Jim Edgerton had spoken at a town meeting. It was not well received.
“(But) They had let him have his say. No one had shouted him down. I thought — that’s it!” Rockwell said. He then began to draw up the ideas and decided to head to Washington, D.C. and visit the Office of War Information (OWI).
Finding a publisher
Stout said the goal was “the illustrations be made into patriotic posters that could be sold to raise funds for the war effort.” But “the man in charge of posters” was not interested and sent Rockwell on his way.
On his way back to Vermont, Rockwell stopped in Philadelphia to visit with Ben Hibbs, the editor of the Saturday Evening Post. The artist and Hibbs talked and he mentioned his failed Washington excursion and showed him his ideas.
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