“Imprinted: Illustrating Race” to display over 200 years of racing illustrations at the Norman Rockwell Museum

Courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum
Robert Cunningham. “Olympic Sprinter”, 1980. Acrylic on paper. Collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum
Qadir Nelson. “Say Their Names”, 2020. Cover illustration for The New Yorker, June 12, 2020. Collection of the artist.

Courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum
Qadir Nelson. “Sweet Liberty”, 2020. Cover illustration for The New Yorker, November 23, 2020. Collection of the artist.

Staff reporter

The “Imprinted: Illustrating Race” exhibition will be on view at the Norman Rockwell Museum located in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, from June 11 to October 30. The exhibition is co-curated by Robyn Phillips-Pendleton, university professor of visual communications, and Stephanie Haboush Plunkett, deputy director and chief curator of the museum.

Phillips-Pendleton was asked to co-curate the exhibition for the museum during the summer of 2021. As its premiere approached, she met with the exhibition directors and its co-curator once or twice per week to finalize the details of the exhibition.

The exhibit focuses on stereotyping people of color in the United States through print media. It examines the role of the media in the public’s perception of race and will contain at least 100 works from the 1800s to the early 2000s. These pieces will include illustrations, 3D artifacts like food, newspapers and more.

Phillips-Pendleton conducted research into the creators of these printed images and scoured the Internet for works to display. She bought playing cards and newspapers from the 1800s on eBay and conducted extensive research on anonymous illustrators.

“It was really great to do extensive research on color illustrators and find a lot of no-name illustrators and really dive deep into color illustrators who couldn’t use their real names on their illustrations…lest that people who bought the magazine don’t. don’t buy the magazine again,” Phillips-Pendleton said.

The exhibit uses his chosen images to depict a time when illustrations of people of color were pasted all over printed materials and objects in an effort to convey certain representations.

“The illustrations weren’t just in newspapers, they were on everyday items like food items,” Phillips-Pendleton said. “Negative illustrations of blacks and Native Americans were wrapped around a can of beans. These things were common, and I’m really interested in letting people see these images, but also get a glimpse of a time when they were just common.

According to Phillips-Pendleton, these widespread illustrations were how people were taught what to believe, especially when there were no photographs or television to capture events in real time. If newspapers promoted negative stereotypes about people of color or spread misinformation, many would accept it.

“I was surprised to know that many of the illustrators who created Native American battles that were seen in Northeast newspapers, some of them never actually left the Northeast,” Phillips said. -Pendleton. “They invented them.”

One of the main reasons the exhibit is so important to Phillips-Pendleton is that she believes everyone should be better informed about history and the images created from historical events.

“What kind of imagery has surrounded major events in history?” said Phillips-Pendleton. “I think it’s important for everyone to know more about the history of this country. And generations can talk about it. People of color, white people – I want everyone to talk about it.

Phillips-Pendleton points out that there have been good and bad portrayals of people of color, but how they are portrayed is tied to current circumstances.

“I’ve seen a lot of negative images, illustrations over the last four years, even when Obama was in power,” Phillips-Pendleton said.

Phillips-Pendleton also finds this exhibit to be so important to her because injustices still happen today.

“The forever stamp of Edmonia Lewis, the sculptor, they had the ceremony last Wednesday, and the New York Post wrote an article about the launch of the stamp but did not include the name of the illustrator,” said said Phillips-Pendleton.

Phillips-Pendleton hopes to highlight the importance of history and allow people to think critically about where these images come from.

“It’s real, and we’re very committed to history, historical events, and making people aware of the attachments that come from those historical events,” Phillips-Pendleton said.

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