Making Rockwell Virtual: Museum Expanding Interactive Efforts

Oct 3, 2016

A foundation connected to illustrious filmmaker George Lucas is donating $1.5 million to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.

The three-year grant from the George Lucas Family Foundation enables the museum to create multi-media experiences on site, online and for traveling exhibitions. The museum’s Director of Digital Learning and Engagement Rich Bradway says a digital gallery tour will allow visitors to experience augmented reality using their mobile devices.

“And look at, say, the painting ‘The Golden Rule’ in his [Rockwell’s] studio and that will recognize the painting and then pull up the video of Rockwell talking about working on ‘The Golden Rule’ while he’s in his studio,” explained Bradway.

Going even further, Bradway says the Norman Rockwell Museum wants to try out virtual reality experiences.

“It could be something where we’ve created a room that’s sort of VR and everything is projected on walls and people can go up to the walls and interact with them as if they’re in a painting or an environment,” Bradway said. “For example, I think a lot of people lose context of what life was like in the mid-20th century, the sweet-spot for Rockwell. This gives people the opportunity to understand that in the 1930s and 1940s there weren’t many televisions, there was no internet and it was really paintings, magazines and the radio.”

The museum’s manager of media services Jeremy Clowe says the efforts make its collection more accessible and engaging. The Norman Rockwell Archive has more than 100,000 photographs, letters and other items related to the famed Saturday Evening Post illustrator.

“To be able to take people back in time to when these works were created and it’s just another layer to make it a much more rich experience,” said Clowe.

The museum also plans to modify its teacher and student curriculum resources using the grant. Bradway says teachers will be able to mold lessons to their needs and pull content from other institutions that the Norman Rockwell Museum partners with.

“If we’re doing something and we’re covering civil rights or World War II and we have this content from Rockwell, but we can utilize content from the FDR [Franklin D. Roosevelt] Library – they have a wealth of information that could go to support the curriculum that we’re developing,” said Bradway.

The museum is planning an online media hub with podcasts, interviews and lectures. The organization will also launch a national social media campaign to engage young audiences to create an online conversation forum.

“If you go on Facebook or Twitter, one of the interesting things is that Rockwell is probably one of the most memed artists in existence,” Bradway said. “You’ll always find a ‘Freedom From Want’ meme that could be Stars Wars and they’re all sitting around the table, or it could be Disney.”

Finally, a portion of the $1.5 million gift will support a traveling exhibition to be announced this fall. More than 6 million people have visited the Norman Rockwell Museum since it opened in 1969, while more than 5 million have attended its traveling exhibitions. The museum says Lucas, of Star Wars and Indiana Jones fame, is an avid collector of Rockwell’s artwork. The Foundation’s earlier $500,000 gift has supported the museum’s multimedia efforts over the past two years.