March 16, 2010

A big nod to Norman

BOB KEYES

— By

Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Norman Rockwell's small-town America is alive and well in Kennebunk.

The beloved illustrator, best-known for creating funny and poignant paintings of life's watershed moments, will be celebrated with a townwide festival this coming weekend that will include theater, a movie, art and plenty of food.

As much as it celebrates the painter, Norman Rockwell's Small Town America in the Kennebunks will recall a time when life was simpler than it is today, and in a place where some say the small-town values that Rockwell espoused in his work are flourishing.

Times seem harsher now than they were when Rockwell made most of his famous paintings for The Saturday Evening Post, festival organizer Danie Connolly said.

If nothing else, she hopes the festival helps people feel better about themselves and their community.

''There were probably tougher times back then, but we seem to be searching for a balance today, a way to make things feel good again, or at least try and put things in the right perspective,'' she said.

Normal Rockwell's Small Town America packs several ambitious events into three days, beginning Friday afternoon.

From 4 to 7 p.m. Friday at Kennebunk Town Hall, Maine photographers will exhibit new images that re-create Rockwell's paintings with models, props and great attention to detail, down to the raindrops falling into the hand of the baseball umpire in Rockwell's iconic ''Bottom of the Sixth'' painting. Kennbunk photographer Liam Crotty made 17 of the images, including ''Bottom of the Sixth,'' as well as several others with baseball themes.

Later that evening, New Hampshire filmmaker Alfred Thomas Catalfo will screen his 35-minute film ''The Norman Rockwell Code,'' a spoof on ''The DaVinci Code.'' Friday's screening will mark the Maine debut of the film, which received favorable notice for its wit and whimsy in Entertainment Weekly.

On Saturday, also at Town Hall, Maine playwrights and actors will premiere a dozen original short plays, all written specifically for the festival and inspired by Rockwell paintings. Most are fun, although one might leave the audience in tears.

And on Sunday, Rockwell's legacy will be satiated with a big breakfast with Santa -- a recurring subject of Rockwell's work -- and a Thanksgiving-style dinner, with plenty of potatoes and gravy and Rockwellian characters.

Sound corny and idealistic?

''You bet,'' Connolly said. ''But I'm thinking the world's ready for some good old-fashioned humor and sweet images -- at least for one weekend in August.''

The festival has been widely embraced in Kennebunk and elsewhere.

AN ENTIRE TOWN RALLIES

Thomas Daly, curator of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., said it's unusual for an entire town to rally around Rockwell.

''It's very unique. We have heard of other things on a much smaller scale, where you might have an evening dedicated to Rockwell,'' Daly said. ''But I don't know that there has been an entire weekend devoted to him, with so many artists coming together to celebrate his work in so many disciplines.''

The museum can document that Rockwell visited Maine on at least a couple of occasions in the 1940s, scouting for what Daly called ''Down Easters'' to model for his paintings. He was living in Stockbridge and in Vermont at the time, so a trip to Maine would have been relatively easy, Daly said.

On one occasion, he was seeking a mother and son to pose while peeling potatoes for a Thanksgiving meal. Another time, he came in search of a lobsterman, which he ultimately found to pose for the painting ''A Fair Catch.'' In the painting, the lobsterman is walking from the shore with a trap on his back. His catch is a mermaid.

''A Fair Catch'' is one of 17 paintings that photographer Crotty reproduced for his part of the festival. He couldn't find a mermaid -- he used a replica of one for his photo shoot -- but he had no trouble finding a lobsterman: Edward Hutchins of Cape Porpoise, a fifth-generation lobsterman.

For ''Doctor and the Doll,'' Crotty called on his retired pediatrician, Dr. Lyman Page. For ''The Runaway'' -- a famous painting of a Massachusetts state trooper seated at a diner counter with a young runaway -- he got a family friend, Doug Hirschhorn, to pose as the boy and Maine trooper Sgt. Kevin Donovan to sit as the cop. They used the Maine Diner in Wells as their location, with diner manager Jim MacNeil leaning in over the counter.

For a series of baseball images, Crotty enlisted the help of the Portland Sea Dogs. Real-life players Beau Vaughan, Matt Goodson, Mike James and Andrew Pinckney volunteered to be in the photos, as did Sea Dogs general manager Charlie Eschbach. And for ''Bottom of the Sixth,'' Crotty enlisted Sea Dogs interns to suit up as umpires and cajoled them to jut their chins and noses high into the air, as if sniffing out the weather.

The raindrops in ''Bottom of the Sixth'' aren't real, but neither are they a product of Photoshop manipulation. Crotty hung fishing line from staging set up off-camera to replicate the rain. For the drop of rain that's landing in the umpire's open palm, he attached a light sinker to give it tension, though the sinker is not visible in the photograph.

The project has been an absolute blast, Crotty said. ''I haven't had this much fun professionally in just, years.''

Crotty, who grew up and lives in Kennebunk, has been a Rockwell fan for as long as he can remember.

''I think we've hit a nerve,'' he said. ''I think it's a combination of Rockwell being America's most popular artist and then bringing it home to Maine. Growing up here, I know that people stay connected to their community. There is a sense of pride and a sense of community here that I think is unique.''

That notion was reinforced for Crotty when he began arranging his photos.

''Where else could you find a fifth-generation lobsterman, your retired pediatrician or an old-timer diner like the Maine Diner down in Wells? You can still find all of that in Maine, and that's really what we're celebrating.''

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

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