(STOCKBRIDGE, Mass.) – Mac Conner, whose work as a prominent illustrator in advertising and magazines in the mid-1950s and 1960s helped shape the aesthetic and tone of the “Mad Men” era, is the subject of Mac Conner: A New York Life, an exhibition of more than 70 original works by the New York City-based artist at Norman Rockwell Museum, on view from Saturday, March 19, through June 19.
Fifty years later, the influence of the mid-1950s to 1960s endures, with current fashion, film, music, and commercial art continuing to be informed by the art, design, and culture from the time period. This spring Norman Rockwell Museum explores the work of one of illustration’s original “Mad Men,” whose work helped shape the popular image of postwar America—Mac Conner: A New York Life is on view at the Museum from March 19 through June 19, 2016. An opening reception will be held on Saturday, March 19, from 6 to 8 p.m., with a special appearance planned by honored guest Mac Conner, still active and residing in New York City at the age of 102.
Organized by the Museum of the City of New York, Mac Conner: A New York Life is the first exhibition of more than 70 original works by the New York City-based artist, whose advertising and editorial illustrations graced the pages of such leading publications as Cosmopolitan, Redbook, and The Saturday Evening Post. Presented as part of Norman Rockwell Museum’s Distinguished Illustrator Series, the exhibition is co-sponsored by The Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University in St. Louis and the Museum’s Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies.
“I never considered myself an artist,” notes Conner. “I just liked to make pictures. (Illustrator) Al Parker was one of my gods, you might say, along with Norman Rockwell—I loved the way he painted; he had heart and soul and a sense of humor.”
Norman Rockwell Museum’s Chief Curator Stephanie Plunkett adds that “as a young boy, Mac Conner found inspiration in the art of Norman Rockwell, which he studied on the covers and pages of popular magazines in his father’s dry goods store. It is fitting that this talented artist, who became one of the most prolific and highly regarded illustrators of the mid-twentieth century, be honored at Norman Rockwell Museum. His gift for creativity and invention is evident in lively, evocative works that offer insights into American aspiration during the Post-War era.”
Mac Conner: A New York Life has been curated by Terrence C. Brown, former Director of the Society of Illustrators; and D.B. Down, Professor of Art and American Culture Studies at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, and Faculty Director of the Modern Graphic History Library, both at Washington University in St. Louis.
Speaking about Conner’s stylish depictions of women, Brown observes: “It was not uncommon for ladies to go in to a hairdresser, hold out an illustration torn out of a magazine, and say ‘I want my hair to look like that!'” Connner’s illustrations set the fashion, but also offered a model to which women could aspire, that was also within their reach.
In addition to the artist’s final paintings, the exhibition will include Conner’s reference photographs and pastel sketches, which illuminate his illustration process. Correspondence with editors and art directors provide a glimpse inside the dynamic world of publishing at a time when the advertising industry was at its height and almost entirely centered on New York’s Madison Avenue. An exhibition video, featuring an exclusive interview with Mac Conner, has been produced by Norman Rockwell Museum.
Also on view, the museum’s installation Ad Man: The Commercial Work of Norman Rockwell will display many of Rockwell’s own commercial projects created over 50 years, including rarely-seen artwork for Pan Am, Shredded Wheat, AT&T, and the Boy Scouts (the artist’s longest running client).
McCauley “Mac” Conner (b. 1913) grew up admiring Norman Rockwell’s magazine covers in his father’s general store. He began studying illustration with the International Correspondence School during the Depression. Later, Conner attended the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (today the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the University of the Arts), and earned distinction as one of the youngest artists to have his work on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. The artist found further study with Golden Age illustrator Harvey Dunn at New York’s Grand Central School of Art. Conner was drafted into the Navy in 1943 and deployed to Manhattan, where he spent World War II illustrating training materials and set down roots in the city he still calls home.
By 1950, well established in the illustration field, Conner joined with William Neeley to create Neeley Associates, a studio with up to ten artists servicing publishing and advertising clients. For the next 15 years, Mr. Conner was a mainstay illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post and for top women’s and general interest magazines, including Ladies’ Home Journal, Redbook, McCall’s, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, Woman’s Home Companion, and Collier’s. His advertising accounts included United Airlines, U.S. Army Recruiting, General Motors, and Greyhound Lines.
Known for his dramatic perspective, bold color blocks, and eye-catching patterns, Conner’s stylish illustrations were noted for their ideals of female beauty and romance that author Betty Friedan later famously-and-critically-labeled “The Feminine Mystique.” The themes presented in his work mirror the perspectives of the publications of the day and of their readership, with an emphasis on glamour, family values, and youth. The sophisticated, beautiful women in the illustrations are often depicted as the principal players, with men taking supporting roles.
Anxieties about postwar culture can be found in the work as well, reflecting the national scare over the “juvenile delinquent problem,” or the Cold War-era fascination with noir topics such as crime, intrigue, and mystery — subjects that Conner interpreted with dramatic compositions reminiscent of Hitchcock thrillers.
By the 1960s, Conner’s reinvented himself as a paperback cover artist, creating lush paintings that depict exotic locales and historical themes for romance novels and women’s fiction published by Warner and Harlequin Books. Later in his career, Conner investigated portraiture and illustration for children’s books.
Exhibitions Opening Event
Mac Conner: A New York Life
Saturday, March 19, 2016
6 to 8 p.m.
Celebrate the art of one of America’s original “Mad Men,” McCauley (“Mac”) Conner (born 1913). The exhibition presents Conner’s hand-painted illustrations for advertising campaigns and popular magazines like The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, Redbook, and McCall’s, made during the years following World War II when illustrators redefined American style and culture. A reception will follow, with refreshments and a cash bar. Free for Museum members, or $20 for not-yet-members. RSVP by March 10, by contacting: email@example.com or 413.931.2264
Saturday, March 19, 4 p.m.
Professor Douglas Dowd will explore the art of Mac Conner within the context of mid-century American Visual Culture.
Mid-Century Modern: Home Furnishings in the Post-War Era
Saturday, April 16, 5 p.m.
Henry Ford Museum Curator of Decorative Arts Charles Sable will discuss the hallmarks of domestic style in the 1940s and 1950s.
Swing Time: Music from the Golden Age of Jazz
Saturday, May 7, 5 p.m.
Vocalist Sherri Buxton, virtuoso clarinetist Paul Green, and their ensemble will channel their inner Benny Goodman during this special celebration of the jazz era.
Phoning It In: Staying Connected in a Pre-Digital Age
Saturday, June 4, 5 p.m.
Paul Violette, founder and curator of The New Hampshire Telephone Museum, will explore the history of the telephone, which made its way into the art of many mid-century illustrators.
About the Museum of the City of New York
Founded in 1923 as a private, nonprofit corporation, the Museum of the City of New York celebrates and interprets the city, educating the public about its distinctive character, especially its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation. The Museum connects the past, present, and future of New York City, and serves the people of the city as well as visitors from around the world through exhibitions, school and public programs, publications, and collections. Visit www.mcny.org to learn more.
About Norman Rockwell Museum
Norman Rockwell Museum holds the largest and most significant collection of art and archival materials relating to the life and work of Norman Rockwell. The Museum also preserves, interprets, and exhibits a growing collection of original illustration art by noted American illustrators, from historical to contemporary. The Norman Rockwell Museum Art Collection and Norman Rockwell Archive inspire a vibrant year-round exhibition program, national traveling exhibitions, and arts and humanities programs that engage diverse audiences. The collections, which are made accessible worldwide, are a comprehensive resource relating to Norman Rockwell and the art of illustration, the role of published imagery in society, and the American twentieth century.
Since its inception, Norman Rockwell Museum has explored the impact of illustrated images and their role in shaping and reflecting our world through changing exhibitions, publications, and programs. Dedication to a deepened understanding of the art of illustration has led to the formation of the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies. The first of its kind in the nation, this research institute supports sustained scholarship and establishes Norman Rockwell Museum’s leadership in the vanguard of preservation and interpretation relating to this important aspect of American visual culture.
Norman Rockwell Museum is located on 36 park-like acres in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Rockwell’s hometown for the last 25 years of his life. The Museum is open year-round; closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. From May through October, hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; from November through April, hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays. The Museum will be open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursdays during the month of August. Rockwell’s studio is open May through October, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Museum admission is $18, $17 for seniors, $16 for military veterans, $10 for students, $6 for kids and teens 6 to 18, and free for Museum members and children 5 and under. Visit the museum online at Norman Rockwell Museum.