I’ll never be able to sing “Sleigh Ride” again!  Ever!  Not even with Amy Grant.  Currier & Ives!?  Puh-lease!  I’ll take Norman Rockwell any day.  ANY day.

In 1857, Nathaniel Currier, a Massachusetts lithographer, and James Merritt Ives, a self-trained artist and bookkeeper for the business of N. Currier, formed a partnership. The result was the firm of Currier & Ives, which produced three to four prints every week for fifty years – a total of over 7,500 titles. The lithographs produced by the company were published by Currier & Ives, none were actually drawn or lithographed by them. Upon their deaths in 1888 and 1895 respectively, their sons, Edward West Currier and Chauncy Ives, directed the firm until its close in 1907 (American Historical Print Collectors Society).

Previous to the Emancipation Proclamation, Currier & Ives generally depicted blacks as individuals content with their lives and position in society; they were often pictured in the background of idyllic plantation images. Initially after the Proclamation was issued, the firm continued to depict blacks in a positive light, focusing more on individuals, publishing portraits of John Brown, Frederick Douglas, and black Union soldiers fighting for their freedom (222). As time went on, however, and the freedmen began to move north into the cities, it became more apparent that not all Northerners were unanimous in their support of emancipation and the status of the freedman. The political images published by Currier & Ives during this time were vicious attacks against the character and intelligence of blacks, depicting them as unsupportive and disobliging of the political figures who sought to free them, such as Abraham Lincoln, Horace Greeley, and Senator Charles Sumner (226).

During and after Reconstruction, Currier & Ives, and America it seems, continued to appreciate these negative images of African Americans. Out of this, between the mid-1870s to the early 1890s, the Darktown Comics arose, mostly illustrated by Thomas Worth (1834-1917) and James Cameron (1828-1963). The company described the Comics as “pleasant and humorous designs, free from coarseness or vulgarity, being good natured hits at the popular amusements and excitements of the times”. It has been suggested that Darktown may have “served as satires on polite white behavior as well”, as could be supported by previously positive images of African Americans. Regardless of intent, the prints only reinforced negative racial stereotypes throughout the country.

The caricatures presented by the Darktown Comics consisted of “African Americans performing actions that were more or less normal for ‘ordinary’ folk, meaning whites…the implication being that the African Americans could not execute even the simplest tasks of everyday life without making themselves appear ridiculous”. The most common images depicted by Currier & Ives’ artists were of African Americans attempting to have horse, skull, and sulky races; ride in carriages and yachts; hunt; host lawn parties; play tennis; and fight fires–always with disastrous results. And the depiction of  African American lawyers, doctors and the clergymen as bumbling and dishonest were quite malicious. African American children were also featured in a poor light – as mischievous, out of control, disrespectful hoodlums. This is evident in prints by Thomas Worth such as “A Put Up Job” and “A Fall from Grace” (1883) and “Breaking In: A Black Imposition” and “Breaking Out: A Lively Scrimmage” (1881).

African American stereotypes that still exist today were begun here – the connection of African Americans to music, in Darktown specifically of banjo playing, and of their supposed eating habits, most notable in the Comics, that of eating watermelon. This can be seen in the prints that make up the set of the Darktown Banjo Class and in single prints like “O Dat Watermillion!”. As one can see, African American speech was attacked as well, through phonetic renderings steeped in the distortion of stereotypes and caricature.

The Darktown Comics did not develop or exist in a vacuum, however. In addition to theDarktown prints that came out of this time, Harper’s Weekly featured the Blackville prints; examples of which can be seen at HarpWeek’s exhibition, “Toward Racial Equality:Harper’s Weekly Reports on Black America, 1857-1874 or the Philadelphia Print Shop’sBlackville Prints.” These were similar in content to Darktownspoofs of African American attempts at high fashion, sports, etc. The most prevalent artists of this series were Sol Eytinge, Jr., William Ludwell Sheppard, S.C. McCutcheon and “Sphinx” (Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd.). Other publications, such as Life, Puck and Judge, as well as Pulitzer’s New York World and Hearst’s New York Journal produced similar images but these were in the context of satire (Hays). Whether or not these images were taken as satire or at face value by the American populous is up for debate, however. Other news and editorial magazines, such as The Outlook and The Independent, also promoted these types of images through their illustrations and advertising—exemplifying the prevalence and acceptance of these racist stereotypes across the country (Hays).

The “high art” of this time, specifically that of southern artists, furthered these stereotypes as well, dehumanizing the African American through their depictions of coal black skin, thick red lips, oversized teeth, and patchwork clothing. It wasn’t until the impact of the Ashcan Society and the period of realism came into play that classical forms of art began to celebrate the figure of the African American as he really appeared. The art of Robert Henry, George Luks, and George Wesley Bellows are forefathers of this new view – a celebration of the African American.


speaking of norman rockwell

This post is completely reblogged.  I came across it HERE yesterday while looking for more of Jason Claiborne’s work.  I became curious about Norman Rockwell’s own views on race.  Angelo Lopez broke it down pretty well, as far as Rockwell’s work is concerned anyway, and I thought I’d share.

Norman Rockwell and the Civil Rights Paintings

By Angelo Lopez

Fifty years after he first started doing work for the magazine, Norman Rockwell was tired of doing the same sweet views of America for the Saturday Evening Post in the early 1960s. The great illustrator was increasingly influenced by his close friends and loved ones to look at some of the problems that was afflicting American society. Rockwell had formed close friendships with Erik Erickson and Robert Coles, psychiatrists specializing in the treatment of children and both were advocates of the civil rights movement.

His most profound influence was his third wife, Mary L. “Molly” Punderson, who was an ardent liberal and who urged him in new directions. On December 14, 1963, Rockwell did his last cover for the Saturday Evening Post and he began working for Look magazine. Look magazine finally gave Norman Rockwell the opportunity to express his social concerns.

Rockwell’s first painting was The Problem We All Live With, one of his greatest paintings. This painting depicts Ruby Bridges, the little girl who integrated the New Orleans school system in 1960, being escorted to her class by federal marshals in the face of hostile crowds. It’s a simple picture, the disembodied figures of 4 stiff suited men and the vulnerable yet defiant figure of a school age African American girl marching lockstep. To the right is a tomato staining a wall, obviously thrown at the girl but just missing. My eyes focus on the girl and her immaculate white, a contrast to the graffiti stained wall in the background. As a painting it’s a wonder, with it’s composition conveying Rockwell’s message in a few simple figures. To look at the picture, go here.

An even greater departure from Rockwell’s usual sweet America paintings is Southern Justice, painted in 1963. Rockwell did a finished painting, but the editors published Rockwell’s color study instead, and I think his color study conveys the terror of the scene more successfully. It depicts the deaths of 3 Civil Rights workers who were killed for their efforts to register African American voters. It is done in a monochrome sienna color, and it is a horrifying vision of racism. A look of it can be seenhere.

Rockwell’s most optimistic view of the civil rights movement wasNegro In The Suburbs, painted in 1967. It depicts an African American family moving into a white suburban neighborhood. The African American children look over by the kids in the neighborhood, with all the children sharing a love of baseball, America’s game. This painting can be found in this gallery.

a “half black” rockwell

I think this is so cool.  Just one thing though…. If his father was mixed-race himself, how is it possible for Mr. Claiborne to be half black? Don’t get me wrong, I am not questioning his personal identity.  I would love to have a conversation with him about it.  About how he came to that conclusion.  I used to think that if I could make “half black” kids.  Then one day I realized that… I can’t.

A Rockwell Illustrating a Street-Lit World


Jason Claiborne

When Jason Claiborne was a third grader at Public School 187 in Washington Heights, the teacher scolded him for drawing a picture of a naked woman.

“Jason stood up and told the teacher, ‘I come from a family of artists and we have nude paintings on the wall,’ ” recalled his mother, Jane Jaffe, 65, whose father was Richard Rockwell, an artist and a nephew of the famous illustrator Norman Rockwell.

That would make Norman Rockwell — who was born 116 years ago on Feb. 3 — a great-great-uncle to Jason Claiborne, a 33-year-old artist living in Inwood, Manhattan.

If one were to have preconceptions about what a relative of Norman Rockwell would be like, Mr. Claiborne might not match them.

First of all, he is, as he calls it, “half black,” being the product of Ms. Jaffe’s second marriage, to a mixed-race man named Mario Claiborne. Jason Claiborne did not grow up in middle America, but rather in Washington Heights.

Like Rockwell, who died in 1978, Mr. Claiborne makes his living illustrating book and magazine covers. But Mr. Claiborne does not sit at a spindly easel painting sentimental portraits of white-bread middle Americana. He uses a computer to illustrate the covers publications that fall into the so-called street lit genre of publishing: urban tales of city dwellers who deal in guns, drugs, gangs and vice. The characters (and readers, largely) tend to be people of color.

“Norman documented middle America, and I’m documenting the ’hood,” said Mr. Claiborne, president and creative director for Augustus Publishing, which puts out books with titles such as “Ghetto Girls” and “Streets of New York.”

Authors include former prison inmates and gang members, and Mr. Claiborne provides the brash cover art that is more hustlers and hip-hop than the hobos and homespun scenes of “Saturday Evening Post” covers.

“A lot of Norman Rockwell illustrations can be seen as Polaroid images of the American dream,” Mr. Claiborne said. “I’m showing an American dream that’s not as pretty.”

…“Norman drew life as he experienced it, and like him, Jason draws from his personal life experience,” Ms. Jaffe said. “Norman would not be averse to the way Jason’s doing, because Norman was always ahead of his time as well.”

Richard Rockwell — whose father was Jarvis Rockwell, brother of Norman Rockwell — became a notable illustrator for comics and a courtroom illustrator, before dying in 2006. Richard’s daughter Jane Rockwell (later, Jane Jaffe) became a noted dancer and actor and Radio City Rockette, before becoming a lawyer and eventually taking her current position as an administrative law judge for New York State, in Brooklyn.

Mr. Claiborne has been painting on canvas since childhood. His mother raised him as a single parent, and he developed a close bond with Richard Rockwell and spent much time in Richard’s house surrounded by Norman Rockwell’s art and watching Richard Rockwell sketch. Richard Rockwell drew for many comic strips, including the Steve Canyon series for more than 30 years. He was also a prominent courtroom sketch artist, and several of his sketches hang on Mr. Claiborne’s walls.

Ms. Jaffe noted the significance of having an interracial descendant carrying on the Rockwell artistic mantle.

“When my father was on his deathbed, Jason whispered in his ear that he would keep the Rockwell creative juices flowing,” she said.


Read more HERE