In honor of our upcoming exhibition, John Rogers: American Stories, curator Kim Orcutt will be writing a series of posts about his life, his work, and how he earned the nickname “The People’s Sculptor.” Watch Kim Orcutt and Harold Holzer tour the exhibition on YouTube.
The sculptor John Rogers is often compared to Norman Rockwell, and for good reason. Both were highly accomplished artists whose work was beloved by a very large audience. Both men worked in years of war and peace, and produced insightful and moving scenes of American life. Rockwell’s paintings graced the covers of the Saturday Evening Post from 1916 to 1963, and Rogers sold 80,000 of his small narrative sculptures from the 1860s to the 1890s. Priced around $15, they were a common sight in parlors across the country.
Even though Rogers isn’t the household name that Rockwell is, Rockwell paid tribute to the sculptor and testified to how firmly entrenched he was in American consciousness, even decades after his death. Rockwell’s “April Fool” cover for April 3, 1948 was titled Curiosity Shop and it showed an encounter between the elderly shop owner and a young patron. It is filled with quirks that are meant to test the viewer’s alertness, like the heron flying out of the left side of the picture and the old man’s head that appears on the dolls he and his customer are holding (give it a try, there are lots of other oddities to find). At lower right is a Rogers Group that combines a man from one of his famous Civil War sculptures, Wounded to the Rear: One More Shot and the woman from his best-selling Coming to the Parson, a scene of young love. What’s remarkable about the image is that Rockwell expected the readers of the Saturday Evening Post to get the joke, even fifty years after Rogers’ heyday.
The New-York Historical Society will host a conversation between Kimberly Orcutt, Henry Luce Curator of American Art and Laurie Norton Moffatt, Director of the Norman Rockwell Museum, moderated by Harold Holzer, Senior Vice President for External Affairs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and renowned expert on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. “Rogers and Rockwell: the Original Pop Artists” will explore how each man captured his era while blurring the boundaries between high and low culture. Click here for tickets!