Thursday, September 6, 2007

Al Parker at the Rockwell

Yesterday Jeanette and I recharged our inspirational batteries with a visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The museum is hosting a major retrospective of American illustrator Al Parker called “Ephemeral Beauty: Al Parker and the American Women’s Magazine, 1940-1960.”

Curator Stephanie Plunkett showed us the actual fan letter that Rockwell wrote to his friend Parker in 1948, saying “While the rest of us are working knee-deep in a groove, you are forever changing and improving. You have brought more freshness, charm, and vitality to illustration than any other living illustrator.”

Over 80 works by Parker and his contemporaries demonstrate how Parker's compositional ingenuity and freshness of concept influenced all his peers. Parker originated the extreme close-up portrait, and created the acclaimed “mother and daughter” covers for the Ladies’ Home Journal between 1939 and 1952, which are collected in an array of tearsheets and original paintings.

Illustrators in particular will appreciate seeing Parker’s informal sketches, photo reference, tearsheets, and letters from art directors. The catalog includes a fascinating article by Alice Carter on the history of the American women’s magazines. Other essays explore how, after World War II, magazine illustrators like Parker played a powerful role in shaping the styles and aspirations of everyday Americans. The exhibition will be on view though October 28.

If you want to see more of Parker's work on the Web, don’t miss the fascinating Flickr collection by Leif Peng in Today’s Inspiration, as well as a good article with more links by Charley Parker in Lines and Colors (scroll down to Sunday March 11)

We’ll be back to the Rockwell Museum sometime this winter, because they’ll be hosting a groundbreaking graphic novel exhibition starting in November.


Unknown said...

Hey James,
How are you? I'm not sure if you remember, but I wrote to you about five years ago, my freshman year of college at the California Institute of the Arts, asking if you had any dinosaur sketches, and you obliged with a very encouraging reply letter, sending me several original thumbnails. I just wanted to thank you and let you know that your work has continued to be an inspiration, and my hard work in the field of arts has paid off greatly. I graduated from CalArts last Summer and am currently animating at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville. My first feature work premiered in Ratatouille this summer, so I finally have an inkling of the fulfillment you must feel with each publication. I want to thank you again for your inspiration and generosity. Along with your reply letter, you sent me a Visitor's pass to Dinotopia, so I would like to extend to you an invitation to Pixar, feel free to stop by any time you are in the Bay Area. There are a lot of Gurney fans around the studio, and we'd love to give you a tour sometime!
Thanks again, and keep up all the tremendous work!
Your friend,
Austin Madison

James Gurney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hi, Austin,
Thanks for staying in touch--and congratulations! You got off at the top floor, and every art student reading this will see what happens when you combine talent and hard work.

Everyone should check out Austin's brilliant blog "Austin Translation" at

Regarding your very kind offer to host me for a Pixar tour, please send me an email at, and we'll see if we can work something out.

I've been impressed by quite a few films, but Ratatouille was in that rare, small group of films (Pinocchio, Star Wars, and Blade Runner) that completely blew me out of my chair and left me feeling stunned with amazement.