Adventures in Illustration, Puppetry, and American Popular Culture
through November 5, 2023
Tony Sarg: Genius at Play is the first comprehensive exhibition exploring the life, art, and adventures of Tony Sarg (1880-1942), the charismatic illustrator, animator, puppeteer, designer, entrepreneur, and showman who is celebrated as thefather of modern puppetry in North America. His vast knowledge of puppet technology was instrumental in his design of the inaugural Thanksgiving Day parade balloon for Macy’s Department Store in 1927, as well as subsequent parade balloons and automated displays for the company’s festive holiday windows, which were imitated nationwide. The creator of a host of popular consumer goods, from toys and clothing to home décor, Sarg also envisioned fanciful illustrated maps and created mural designs for the Oasis Cafe in New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Norman Rockwell was a renowned illustrator and chronicler of American life for more than half a century, documenting the pulse of his times during pivotal moments in twentieth century history. During his career, he navigated many complex business relationships with publishers and advertisers, taking direction from his clients while solving visual problems and asserting his artistry and individualistic perceptions. This exhibition features original paintings and drawings, as well as illuminating selections from Rockwell’s rarely exhibited business correspondence relating to his commissions.
This installation will explore the nature of Rockwell’s client to artist negotiations with The Saturday Evening Post and a range of advertising entities and explore their influence both on the tenor and content of his images and on the readers who intersected with his published work. During the early and mid-twentieth century, Rockwell and other illustrators were expected to adhere to image parameters designed to sell magazines to middle class consumers and business people, who in the view of the publisher, epitomized American Exceptionalism and represented achievers in their quest for the American Dream.
For Rockwell’s advertising clients, content and messaging was heavily influenced by trends in consumerism, connections of consumerism to democratic ideals and personal advancement, and the science of advertising, coupled with the artist’s own observations of social trends. As a commercial illustrator, Rockwell was necessarily influenced by his clients, but his artistry, insights, and sensitive portrayals of humanity also profoundly influenced perceptions of American life.
Born in New York City in 1894, Norman Rockwell always wanted to be an artist. At age 14, Rockwell enrolled in art classes at The New York School of Art (formerly The Chase School of Art). Two years later, in 1910, he left high school to study art at The National Academy of Design. He soon transferred to The Art Students League, where he studied with Thomas Fogarty and George Bridgman. Fogarty’s instruction in illustration prepared Rockwell for his first commercial commissions. From Bridgman, Rockwell learned the technical skills on which he relied throughout his long career. Learn more…