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Norman Rockwell in the 1940s: A View of the American Homefront and Charles Hargens: American Illustrator

October 19, 2007 - February 10, 2008


Through February 10, 2008, the James A. Michener Art Museum exhibits the work of celebrated illustrators Norman Rockwell and Charles Hargens. Norman Rockwell in the 1940s: A View of the American Homefront and Charles Hargens: American Illustrator are on view at the Museum's New Hope, Union Square location.

Norman Rockwell in the 1940s: A View of the American Homefront, organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, invites viewers to revisit a significant chapter in the history of our nation, as portrayed by one of the most notable American artists of all time. The exhibition features 40 original tearsheets from the Saturday Evening Post, including such recognizable covers as War News, Homecoming Soldier, Rosie the Riveter and Willie Gillis. The exhibition also includes the famed Four Freedoms series. Inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's address to Congress, Rockwell's Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear were first published by the Saturday Evening Post in 1943 along with essays commissioned from leading American writers and historians. Later, 1.2 million people viewed these paintings as they toured the United States raising $132 million for the war effort though the sale of war bonds. According to The New Yorker in 1945, the Four Freedoms "were received by the public with more enthusiasm, perhaps, than any other paintings in the history of American art."

Over the course of a long and industrious career, Charles Hargens (1893-1997) focused his illustrations on themes of the Old West and the American Revolutionary period. His drawings and paintings of cowboys driving cattle, Native Americans against the backdrop of Mount Rushmore and patriots huddled in front of a campfire quickly built him a reputation as one of America's finest illustrators. His work regularly appeared on the front of the Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, Country Gentleman and Boys' Life. He created hundreds of book covers for prestigious publishing houses and his work became the mainstay of Stetson Hat advertisements. (right: Charles W. Hargens (1893-1997), Mt.Rushmore with the tribe of Native Americans, n.d., Oil on canvas, H. 26 x W. 30 inches. Collection of C. William Hargens, III)

Charles Hargens: American Illustrator, organized by the Michener Art Museum, gathers more than a dozen paintings including works used as covers for the Saturday Evening Post. The exhibition also features a charcoal-on-paper portrait of Hargens by Ben Solowey, a publisher's promotional flyer for Portrait of a Marriage by Pearl S. Buck (for which Hargens illustrated the novel's cover), plus magazines and photographs related to the artist's work.

Remembered as a Bucks County, Pennsylvania artist by many, Hargens spent his youth in the Black Hills of South Dakota on a sprawling ranch near the Pine Ridge Reservation, home to the Sioux Indians. As the son of a frontier surgeon, Hargens developed close friendships with the Indians, who-while awaiting treatment from his father-served as subjects for the young artist's first drawings. After high school in Iowa, Hargens moved to Philadelphia to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he became a star pupil and dear friend of the renowned painter Daniel Garber. In 1940, Hargens moved to Carversville in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and became an integral part of its growing arts community.

The president of Dakota Wesleyan University best summed up Hargens' talent as a "mastery of realism, historically accurate detail and ability to capture the spirit of place." According to the illustrator himself, "I was fascinated by the doings of people. I wanted to depict life as it was, life as it is, life as it would be. That human element was the determining factor for me." (left: Charles W. Hargens (1893-1997), Illustration for Bucks County Conservation Calendar for Fiends Meetinghouse in Lahaska, H. 22.5 x W. 31 inches. Collection of C. William Hargens, III)

In an obituary article published February 9, 1997, the New York Times said of the artist:

Mr. Hargens's drawings of cowboys, Indians and Western tableaux were so accurate that Zane Grey and other writers of Westerns asked him to draw their book covers. His art also appeared on the covers of The Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, Liberty, McCall's and Boys' Life.
He was granted an honorary doctorate of fine arts by Dakota Wesleyan University at Mitchell, S.D. A reproduction of his studio in Carversville, Pa., is to be installed on the campus. The studio was filled with photographs, old rifles, spurs and saddles that he said he kept on hand to insure the accuracy of his work.

"These two exhibits provide a unique opportunity for viewers to see the work of two well-known and accomplished American illustrators, both of whom had a hand in creating the popular mythology of our culture," said Brian H. Peterson, Senior Curator at the Michener Art Museum. "Illustrators have often helped us define how we see ourselves, and the work of these two artists also opens a door to America's past-the Old West and the Revolutionary period as interpreted by Hargens, World War II at home as seen by Rockwell."


Wall text panel for Charles Hargens: American Illustrator

When Charles Hargens was born in Hot Springs, South Dakota, Grover Cleveland was our newly-elected President and the infamous massacre of the Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee, South Dakota had occurred a mere three years before. Yet a hundred years later you could still find Hargens perched in front of a drawing table at his Bucks County home, creating works of art drawn from his boyhood experiences in the West.

Hargens' formative years were spent on a sprawling ranch. His father was the only surgeon for miles around, and the Sioux Indians from the nearby Pine Ridge Reservation often gathered outside his house while they waited for his father's services. The young Hargens formed close friendships with many of the Indians, and they became the subjects of his first drawings. He also received the grand sum of twenty-five cents for recognizable drawings of his neighbors' barns and houses. Realizing that making pictures was "a more desirable occupation than punching cows," he began to study art seriously while attending high school in Iowa. He then enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he became a star pupil (and later close friend) of the renowned Bucks County painter Daniel Garber. At the Academy Hargens also received a scholarship that allowed him to travel and study in Europe.

After World War I Hargens built a reputation as one of America's finest illustrators, often focusing on themes of the Old West. His drawings and paintings regularly appeared on the covers of such major publications as Saturday Evening Post, Collier's and Boys' Life. He also illustrated hundreds of book covers for Lippincott, MacMillan and Doubleday, including the original cover for Pearl S. Buck's Portrait of a Marriage. He made many historical paintings of the American Revolutionary period, and for a number of years his illustrations were the mainstay of Coca-Cola and Stetson Hat advertisements. He moved to Bucks County in 1940 to be near his friends from the Pennsylvania Academy, and he took an active interest in the youth of the area. In 1953 Hargens was given the Silver Beaver Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Boy Scouts of America.

When asked to describe what drove him to become an artist, Hargens said, "I was fascinated by the doings of people. I wanted to depict life as it was, life as it is, life as it would be. That human element...was the determining factor for me."

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