Going to school is something that most of us take for granted. A famous painting on display at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston reminds us that for some, the simple act of walking to school was not always so simple. Houston Public Radio’s Alison Young reports about the painting Normal Rockwell called “The Problem We All Live With.”
The painting depicts six-year-old Ruby Bridges. In 1960, she was the first African American child to desegregate an elementary school and Norman Rockwell captured the moment on canvas. In his first cover for Look magazine, we see four federal marshals escorting their young charge to her first day at an all white New Orleans school.
“You don’t even see their heads, their necks….their faces are chopped off. You have these four giants…..she’s dwarfed by them. You get a sense of, not only her loveliness, but her but her absolute vulnerability which he emphasizes by showing her in a white dress surrounded by this unbelievable ugliness.”
Emily Neff is the curator of American painting at the Museum of Fine Arts. She says what surprises most visitors is Rockwell’s attention to detail. The canvas is textured to mimic the cement-wall of the school and graffitied with a racial slur. A splattered tomato adds some of the painting’s only color, possibly symbolizing the blood spilt in the fight for civil rights. Although the subject was controversial for it’s time, Rockwell had already been moving towards the more pressing issues of his day for inspiration and away from the familiar idyllic childhood scenes of Middle America. To Emily Neff, this is what makes his approach to the subject so special.
“I think there is so much warmth and affection in Rockwell’s work and there’s always a sense of tolerance and patience….and sometimes impatience with human foibles and frailties and somehow, for me at least that he’s save by that and it gives his work a certain enduring authority.”
We have a picture of the “The Problem We All Live With” and a link to more information on our web-site kuhf.org. Alison Young, Houston Public Radio News.