MIAMI BEACH - More than 60 years after Norman Rockwell's quintessentially American "Four Freedoms" posters were created, the illustrator is inspiring other artists to delve into the meaning of democracy through art.
Sixty contemporary artists and graphic designers were asked by the Wolfsonian-Florida International University design museum to create works that reinterpret Rockwell's posters, which were themselves inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1941 address to Congress.
The exhibit, called "Thoughts on Democracy," opened earlier this month and runs until Dec. 7. It is part of "Celebrating America," four exhibits on view this year and next that will examine various aspects of the American experience.
The basic idea was "to create new work, but create work that is looking at the past," said Tim Hossler, the museum's art director. "The political situation in America, with an election, it just seemed like a perfect choice."
Leonard A. Lauder recently donated 150 posters, including Rockwell's "Four Freedoms," to the Wolfsonian along with books and newspapers from the World War II period.
The posters will be displayed in the lobby of the museum, so that everyone can view the posters without paying an entry fee. Rockwell's original paintings, which were turned into the posters, are housed at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.
Cathy Leff, the Wolfsonian's director, said the idea behind the exhibit was to provoke people to think about democracy, but also to stay true to the museum and its identity as a design museum.
"We're really interested that people understand graphics . . . the persuasive power of art and design," she said. "We're hoping that it really inspires people to take part, to think about it in the context of our times."
Many of the artists who participated in the project put the "four freedoms" - freedom of worship, freedom from fear, freedom of speech, and freedom from want - in the context of politics and world affairs.
Lawrence Weiner, a New York-based artist, created a poster that has the words "Water Finds Its Own Level" in yellow and outlined with blue ink. The words are gradually going up and then fall into the word "with," which is in red ink. The four freedoms are listed below in black ink.
"It's about the fact that water does find its own level, that if we allow people to have freedoms and take away the basic fears of life, they will excel," Weiner said. "Human beings are inherently good, but without those freedoms it becomes rather difficult."
Elliott Earls, designer-in-residence at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, used his then-3-year-old daughter Scarlett as a model for his poster, which was loosely based on the French artist Eugene Delacroix's painting of "Liberty Leading the People."
A crying Scarlett, adorned with a golden crown and a blue gown pushed down to her waist, revealing her upper torso, is holding what looks like a play sword. Behind her is the US flag and two people are reaching for her. The word "Liberty" is printed in blue capital letters at the top of the poster and "Weeps" is at the bottom with what looks like a splattering of blood.
Originally, Rockwell did four paintings that were selected and published by the Office of War Information as promotional posters, and the images were used to sell war bonds. They raised more than $133 million, said Laurie Norton Moffatt, director of the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.
The posters were put up in every post office in the country and are considered four of the most widely reproduced images of this nation of all time, she said.
"Rockwell's work remains so contemporary and universal," she said. "These are still the ideals that we strive for and fight to protect today."