Exhibit Dates: May 25 – September 2, 2018
Since the time of the Enlightenment, philosophers and activists have contemplated the nature of liberty and its associated responsibilities. Building on those ideas, President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented a particularly ambitious characterization of liberty when, in his 1941 Annual Message to Congress, he argued that Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear should be accepted as human rights not only in the United States, but “everywhere in the world.”
As public dialogue becomes increasingly discordant, the very notion of the common good, and of civic engagement and civil discourse, is called into question. Are the Four Freedoms – as articulated by President Roosevelt and interpreted by artist Norman Rockwell for publication in 1943 in The Saturday Evening Post – still relevant as organizing principles of civil society, or are they now reflective of a bygone era?
Inspired by the legacies of Roosevelt and Rockwell, Reimaging the Four Freedoms is a juried exhibition inviting contemporary artists to consider two questions: How might notions of freedom, as presented by Roosevelt and Rockwell during the World War II era, be reinterpreted for our times? What does freedom look like today? This installation represents the diverse spectrum of responses received from artists across the nation and in Canada. Their compelling artworks in all media give voice to their observations and concerns about freedoms found and lost in our times.
Hosting this exhibition at The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College honors the legacies of Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt in their former home. Each semester several hundred students take courses here in the Human Rights and Public Policy programs of Roosevelt House. In addition, free public programs feature speakers, films, and panels that bring together experts and diverse audiences for respectful dialogue about the most pressing political, social, and ethical issues of the day, as well as their historical contexts. Hunter College scholars present their work about human rights at Roosevelt House and disseminate them via publication. All activities reflect President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech and his numerous other initiatives to promote fundamental rights, as well as Eleanor Roosevelt’s work at the United Nations incorporating and expanding the Four Freedoms in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted by the UN in December 1948, it became one of the most important documents of the 20th century.
Reimagining the Four Freedoms and its companion exhibition, Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms at the New-York Historical Society, were organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum (NRM), Stockbridge, MA. The Ford Foundation supported the competition for Reimagining the Four Freedoms. Additional materials in the exhibit were curated by Roosevelt House Historian Deborah Gardner drawing on digital collections of the Library of Congress (LC), the National Archives (NARA), the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library (FDRL), and the United Nations (UN), with items from the Roosevelt House collection (RH). The staff of Roosevelt House and Hunter College are grateful for the extraordinary opportunity to collaborate with the Norman Rockwell Museum and its staff on this path-breaking exhibit.
Reimagining the Four Freedoms was on view in the historic main-floor rooms of the Roosevelt family’s New York City home from 1908 to 1941, at 47-49 East 65th Street. Hunter College acquired the house from the Roosevelts in 1942 and Eleanor attended its dedication as a student center in November 1943. After the House re-opened in 2010 as a public policy institute honoring the distinguished legacies of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, the Four Freedoms became an organic part of Roosevelt House. The original World War II posters created by the government for a war bond campaign in 1943 are displayed continuously in the building’s Four Freedoms Room (the onetime dining rooms of the Roosevelt family), while President Roosevelt’s original words are engraved in the wall of the auditorium.
Portrait of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
FDR by Frank O. Salisbury (1874-1962). Original 1935, Roosevelt House copy, 1943.
The original of this portrait by British artist Frank Salisbury was painted in 1935 for the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society – of which President Roosevelt was a proud member. Salisbury eventually made five copies including this one for the opening of the Sara Delano Roosevelt Memorial House (now known as the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute) in November 1943, a year after Hunter College had acquired the Roosevelts’ home to create a student center. Salisbury had also given a copy to FDR, who told him: Mrs. Roosevelt and I are thrilled that we are to have the portrait. We have always felt it was by far the best one that was ever done of me, and it will make the family very happy to own it. Their copy is now displayed at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library. In 2021, President Joseph Biden chose to hang the White House copy in the Oval Office.
Re-elected for an unprecedented third term in November 1940, President Roosevelt delivered his Annual Message to Congress (State of the Union address) on January 6, 1941. In that speech, he spoke about the war abroad and the historical evolution of the United States in a worldwide context, noting that The Nation takes great satisfaction and much strength from the things which have been done to make its people conscious of their individual stake in the preservation of democratic life in America. Those things have toughened the fibre of our people, have renewed their faith and strengthened their devotion to the institutions we make ready to protect. Soon after, near the end of the speech, he framed American values as defined by four basic freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. And then he closed by affirming their universal significance, Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. The Four Freedoms, a relatively short portion of his speech, expressed such extraordinarily important ideas that they shaped the course of 20th century history, and continue to reverberate in the 21st century.
President Roosevelt addressing Congress, January 6, 1941.
Rockwell, Roosevelt & The Four Freedoms:
A Companion Exhibition
Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms, a companion exhibition to this installation currently on view at New-York Historical Society, explores the indelible odyssey of humanity’s greatest ideals. The notion of the Four Freedoms has inspired dozens of national constitutions across the globe, yet Franklin D. Roosevelt’s declaration that the United States was willing to fight for Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear—now considered a sublime moment in rhetorical history—did not turn out to be the immediate triumph envisioned by the president. As the nation found itself sliding ever closer to direct involvement in World War II, the underlying meaning of his words captured surprisingly little attention among Americans. Following his January 6, 1941, Annual Message to Congress, government surveys showed that only half of Americans were aware of FDR’s Four Freedoms and that less than a quarter could identify them correctly. Moreover, many had no clear idea why the United States was being called upon to enter the war.
It would take the continuous efforts of the White House, the Office of War Information, and scores of patriotic artists to give the Four Freedoms new life. Most prominent among those was Norman Rockwell, whose interpretations became a national sensation in early 1943 when they were first published in The Saturday Evening Post. Roosevelt’s words and Rockwell’s artworks soon became inseparable in the public consciousness, with millions of reproductions bringing the Four Freedoms directly into American homes and workplaces. When Eleanor Roosevelt convinced United Nations delegates to include these ideals in the new organization’s postwar statement of human rights, FDR’s words—now forever entwined with Rockwell’s images—achieved immortality.
Born amid the turmoil of World War II, the Four Freedoms have since become one of its greatest legacies, a testament to the paramount importance of human rights and dignity. Brought forward by one of America’s greatest presidents and immortalized by one of its most beloved artists more than seventy-five years ago, the Four Freedoms continue to inspire, resonating across generations as strongly today as they did in their time.
Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms
I am grateful for the reproductions of Norman Rockwell’s paintings illustrating the Four Freedoms.He has done a superb job in bringing home the plain, everyday truths behind them. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1943
In the spring of 1942, Norman Rockwell was working on a piece commissioned by the Ordnance Department of the US Army, a painting of a machine gunner in need of ammunition. Posters featuring that image, Let’s Give Him Enough and On Time were distributed to munitions factories throughout the country to encourage production.
But Rockwell wanted to do more for the war effort and decided to illustrate Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. Finding new ideas for paintings never came easily, but transforming abstract ideas into representative images presented more of a challenge.
While considering his options, Rockwell by chance attended a town meeting at which a Vermont neighbor was met with respect when he rose among his neighbors to voice an unpopular view. That night the artist awoke with the realization that he could best paint the Four Freedoms from the perspective of his own experiences, using everyday scenes as his guide. Rockwell made some sketches and, accompanied by fellow Saturday Evening Post artist Mead Schaeffer, went to Washington to propose his ideas.
The timing was wrong—the Ordnance Department did not have the resources for another commission. Disappointed, Rockwell stopped at Curtis Publishing Company in Philadelphia on his way home and presented his concept to Post editor Ben Hibbs. Hibbs immediately made plans to publish the illustrations, giving Rockwell permission to interrupt his usual cover work for a period of three months while he undertook this new challenge. He “got a bad case of stage fright,” though, and it was more than two months before Rockwell even began the project. “It was so darned high-blown,” Rockwell said. “Somehow I just couldn’t get my mind around it.” Despite his early misgivings, the paintings were a phenomenal success. After their publication, in four consecutive issues of the Saturday Evening Post magazine accompanied by related essays (February 20-March 13, 1943), the Post received thousands of requests for reprints. Soon thereafter, the Post and the US Treasury Department announced a joint campaign to sell war bonds and stamps capitalizing on Rockwell’s vision.
In addition, the Office of War Information printed four million sets of posters featuring Rockwell’s imagery, such as those seen in this exhibit. Printed with the words “Buy War Bonds,” they were distributed to schools and institutions in the United States and abroad. The original paintings were sent around the United States to sixteen cities to be featured at war bond drives and $133 million (about $2.3 billion in 2023) was raised to finance the war. President Roosevelt wrote to Rockwell: “You have done a superb job in bringing home to the plain everyday citizen the plain, every day truths behind the four freedoms.”
Bond Rally, Federal Hall, Wall Street, NY, 1943 (NA)
Norman Rockwell’s Creative Process
In the summer of 1942, when he was contemplating the Four Freedoms, Norman Rockwell was at the peak of his career and one of the most famous image makers in America. Though he struggled for seven months with how Roosevelt’s ideas could most effectively be portrayed, he resolved to root the universal, symbolic images in his own experiences and surroundings, using as models his neighbors in Arlington, Vermont.
As was his complex, customary process, the artist’s thumbnail drawings and large scale charcoal sketches, no longer extant, were followed by preliminary color studies in oil. Freedom from Wantand Freedom from Fear were clearly conceptualized in his mind from the start, but Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Worship presented greater challenges. For each painting, he carefully choreographed the expressions and poses of each of his models, working closely with his studio assistant, Gene Pelham, to photograph them for future reference. Freedom of Worship was initially set in a barber shop with people of different faiths and races chatting amiably and waiting their turn, a notion that Rockwell ultimately rejected as stereotypical. For Freedom of Speech, he experimented with several different vantage points, including two that engulfed the speaker in the crowd. In the final work, the speaker stands heads and shoulders above the observers, the clear center of attention.
Fortunately, Rockwell’s Four Freedoms paintings escaped destruction in a fire that destroyed his Vermont studio shortly after they were delivered to The Saturday Evening Post. His reference photographs and most related artworks did not survive the blaze.
Norman Rockwell in his Arlington, VT studio, 1940s. (NRM)
The advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people. UN Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
President Roosevelt made clear that the Four Freedoms were “no vision of a distant millennium.” Their odyssey did not end with FDR, or with Rockwell. As World War II came to a close, the Allies began to hold planning meetings for what would become the United Nations. After FDR’s death on April 12, 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt championed the late president’s legacy, endorsing FDR’s freedoms as an appropriate summation of democracy and human rights, and war weary nations agreed. As a member of the U.S. delegation to the U.N., her leadership of the human rights drafting committee guaranteed that the Four Freedoms were enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the U.N. on December 10, 1948. The Declaration was a testament that arose from the ashes of war to affirm the precious nature of freedom everywhere in the world.
The Four Freedoms have continued to play a prominent role in national and international thought. Many national constitutions have adopted these ideals as a guarantee of human rights. Heroic individuals—from those who have fought for the rights of enslaved populations to those who have dared to criticize totalitarian governments—have been recipients of the Roosevelt Institute’s Four Freedoms Awards. The Four Freedoms are quoted at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington DC, honored at The Four Freedoms Park on New York’s Roosevelt Island, and inscribed on the foundation wall of Roosevelt House. Each iteration is a reminder of the challenge that we continue to face in upholding freedom at home and abroad.
Rockwell’s interpretations, too, have lived on. His Four Freedoms are among the most recognizable images in American history. Whether we encounter the originals at a museum, in print, or online, they are constant reminders of the profound influence of visual imagery on the human imagination. They reveal FDR’s timeless ideals in real world terms, even as they remind us that we are heirs to these cherished values.
Eleanor Roosevelt at The United Nations
At all times, day by day, we have to continue fighting for freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom from fear, and freedom from want—for these are things that must be gained in peace as well as in war. Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt was appointed to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations by President Harry S. Truman and served from 1946 to 1952. During that time she oversaw the writing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and successfully championed the right of Europe’s millions of war refugees to choose what country they wanted to live in rather than be forced to return to their country of origin.
Eleanor Roosevelt at the United Nations and with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN)
Eleanor Roosevelt Monument in New York, dedicated to her human rights work, Riverside Park and 72nd Street.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms State Park,
Roosevelt Island, New York
The Four Freedoms bring the past and present together. They are the freedoms for which we fought; they are the words inscribed in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; they are the fundamental values of the world we would leave to our children. Ambassador William J. vanden Heuvel, 1993
Ambassador William J. vanden Heuvel (1930-2021) spearheaded the effort to build the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial on Roosevelt Island in the East River. Designed in 1974 by architect Louis Kahn (1901-1974), the city’s dire financial situation prevented construction from moving forward. More than thirty years later, Ambassador vanden Heuvel started a fund-raising drive which raised $44.5 million to construct the 12-acre Four Freedoms Park. It features the original design with minor adjustments for rising water levels due to climate change and for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990). The memorial was dedicated on October 17, 2012. Fittingly, it is located at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, just across the river from the United Nations founded by President Roosevelt.
Reimagining The Four Freedoms Art and Artists
Benny Bing, United We Stand. 2017. Acrylic on canvas. Collection of the artist.
For Benny Bing of Toronto, Canada, “the act of painting is a conversation between the work and me.” United We Stand invites consideration of national identity, taking inspiration from Shepard Fairey’s We the People Are Greater Than Fear by portraying a Muslim woman wrapped in the American flag. A self-taught artist of Nigerian descent, Bing has a passion for portraiture and has exhibited widely.
Stephanie Angelo, Four Freedoms (Marriage Equality, Agent Orange, Lettuce Picker, Stalin), 2017. Digital Collection of the artist.
Stephanie Angelo of Boston, Massachusetts is drawn to “the immediacy and boldness that characterizes Pop Art.” In considering the Four Freedoms, she thought of the coloring books that she spent much time with as a child, and wanted to combine the comics-inspired stylistic elements of Pop with content focused on current social issues. “Freedom to love and freedom to work, freedom to have clean air and a healthy environment, and freedom to vote in our democracy” were her reflections on freedom today.
Brandin Barón, The Four Freedoms in the Style of Pontormo, 2017. Digital Collection of the artist.
A response to Norman Rockwell’s Golden Rule, a 1961 cover for The Saturday Evening Post, Brandin Barón was inspired by the painting’s focus on ethnic diversity. His response “fuses Rockwell’s color palette to the spatial complexities in [Italian Mannerist painter] Jocopo Pontormo’s Joseph of Egypt (1517–1518). My goal was to create a dialogue between realistic human figures and memorialized forms of historicized American leaders and edifices…as a means of illustrating the trans-historical legacy of the Four Freedoms.” The Golden Gate Bridge, a feature of the artist’s home city of San Francisco, is a prominent element in the work.
Curt Belshe, Twenty-First Century Four Freedoms, 2017. Photo-polymer etching on paper. Collection of the artist.
For Curt Belshe of Peekskill, New York, this work addresses the complexities of living in a culturally diverse world in the digital information age, which allows us to connect across barriers on a global scale. An accomplished printmaker, Belshe has exhibited and published his art widely.
James Berson, Peaceful Demonstration Helmet (Water Protection), 2017 Mixed media. Collection of the artist.
Freedom of Speech, as expressed through peaceful marches and demonstrations, and their widespread documentation on digital media, was the inspiration for James Berson’s piece. “We must let lawmakers know the will of the people,” wrote the artist, who resides in West Hollywood, California. Self-taught, Berson has been making art for over eighteen years. He credits his informal education to time spent as a gallery attendant at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
James Billeaudeau, Civil Discord, 2017. Photographic print. Collection of the artist.
For the artist, the centrality of television in American culture has promoted consumption, passivity, and a loss of identity. “The twenty-four hour cable news cycle, with its bloated fabrications and divisive rhetoric, holds us hostage to glowing screens while subjecting us to colorful advertisements. My works are staged reproductions and critiques of who we have become.” In this work, James Billeaudeau of Lafayette, Louisiana comments upon the lack of civil discourse in our times.
Gary Bist, Refugee Families in Winter, 2017. Sumi-e ink on rice paper. Collection of the artist.
As this work reflects, people continue to search for the Four Freedoms that Franklin D. Roosevelt and Norman Rockwell hoped would spread throughout the world. Gary Bist’s painting reflects upon the many refugees who risk their lives in arduous conditions in pursuit of safety, security, and freedom. Here, families face a dark forest that is “similar to the barricades, fences, barbed wire and walls that they must overcome at the border of any country they approach. A slight opening in the forest suggests a possible way in,” said the artist, who resides in Ontario, Canada.
Barbara Brandel, Thoughts of Home, 2013. Mixed media. Collection of the artist.
Created with international postage stamps, the figure in this work by Tucson, Arizona artist Barbara Brandel reflects places near and far, and the universal desire for the promise of the Four Freedoms. Her piece comments upon what she terms the Four Necessities—the importance of having “enough to eat, a place to live, a means to earn a living, and a community of friends and family.” An accomplished fiber artist, Brandel also creates paintings and multi-media artworks.
Celine Browning, Untitled III (Capture the Flag), 2017. Flag, thread, and wood. Collection of the artist.
Informed by the complex nature of nationalism and patriotism, this work by Celine Browning of Grand Rapids, Michigan, “is a celebration of our many strengths as a nation, but also…the many ways that the national psyche has been affected by perceived threats to our freedom to worship openly, live without fear, and speak our discontent.” The artist uses the vocabulary of surrealism and pop-art to deconstruct, combine, and repurpose familiar functional objects, creating an uncanny visual language that reimagines what they signify.
Jarrett Christian, Liberty Construct #1, 2014. Ink on rice paper. Collection of the artist.
Jarrett Christian of Atlanta, Georgia, believes that “the four notions of freedom put forth by Franklin D. Roosevelt are still cause, in the minds of Americans, to get out of bed, go to work, and put food on the table. But I also believe that we question the strength of the structure on which we place the weight of these ideals.” In this allegory, Lady Liberty is represented as a lifeless figure, while elephants and donkeys in the distance, chained to a rail car, are pulling in opposite directions. Christian’s artworks raise awareness of the subconscious through unexpected juxtapositions of visual symbols.
Erin Currier, Margarete, Helen, and Pablita, 2016. Acrylic and mixed media. Collection of the artist.
Erin Currier lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but has travelled to more than fifty countries, immersing herself in other world cultures, from Nepal to Nicaragua and Turkey. She gets around “on foot or by bus, sketching, documenting, making friends, and collecting disinherited commercial waste,” which informs her art once she returns to her studio. Currier’s travels “have inspired a sense of urgency as an artist to address social inequality and economic disparity.” Currier writes, “I have felt a responsibility to honor and pay homage to those who came before me—innovative and influential greats such as Pablita Velarde, her daughter Helen Hardin, and her granddaughter Margarete Bagshaw. I purposely chose a warm and vivid palette, as well as materials, evocative of their respective work. In the piece, Margarete holds a paint brush, Helen a book by German philosopher Boris Groys (who writes of how Art born of tradition, spirit, heart, is being sidelined in favor of spectacle born of technology and bureaucracy); while Pablita’s hand, held by the other, is in the Earth-Touching gesture of the Buddha.”
John Dempsey, Sunday Night/Monday Morning, 2017. Acrylic on Masonite. Collection of the artist.
The interior of a church and a factory are brought together in John Dempsey’s painting, which reimagines Norman Rockwell’s Freedom of Worship and Freedom from Want. A reflection on “the transition from Sunday night into Monday morning,” the piece connects the spiritual and the temporal. The artist resides in Flint, Michigan, once known as Vehicle City for its active car industry, before a shrinking economy and the loss of jobs caused many to fall into poverty. A view from the Staten Island Ferry looking north into New York Harbor leads us to the Statue of Liberty, which carries a torch that lights a path to liberty, freedom, and hope.
Sara Dilliplane, We the People, 2018. Digital animation. Collection of the artist.
On February 19, 1942, more than a year after his Four Freedoms speech, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the internment of people of Japanese descent. By June of that year, more than 120,000 people of all ages has been relocated to remote internment camps. “My grandparents were among those citizens interned for three years,” noted Sara Dilliplane of Boston, Massachusetts, representing the complications and contradictions inherent in American life. This animation short illustrates the emotional landscape of recent political events, “a kaleidoscope of modern interpretations of the Four Freedoms, where in the space between our ideals and reality, the potential of hope persists.”
Candace Eaton, Why?, 2017. Oil on canvas. Collection of the artist.
Candace Eaton of Northport, New York took the opportunity to reflect upon Freedom from Fear in this work, which comments upon the violence that has become all too prevalent in society. “Now,” said the artist, “our children stand alone—their parents cannot protect them. Terrorism and the indiscriminate slaughter of the innocent have ripped that security away.” In this painting, the lone child confronts the viewer, asking why? In addition to her personal work, Eaton is a courtroom artist whose drawings have been published in Newsday and on television.
Daniela Edstrom, Freedom of Religion, Freedom to Believe, 2017. Digital Collection of the artist.
New Hampshire artist Daniela Edstrom observes that, “as Rockwell suggests, we must work together toward the highest ideals for the greater good of society and humanity.” In her art, the unifying qualities of faith and the mysteries of religious practice are referenced. Present are the sacred Muslim arch and the Madonna in thoughtful meditation. The Hindu deity Ganesha is followed by an image of Christ, and Christendom’s apple of temptation appears “as a symbol of “man’s wavering soul, tested by the forces of darkness.” A cemetery filled with American flags “speaks of the cost of freedom in an often contradictory world.”
Jane Feldman, Freedom of Religion Re-Imagined, 2013. Digital photograph. Collection of the artist.
A photojournalist from New York City, Jane Feldman comments upon Freedom of Religion in this joyous photograph, which was taken in a garden following a Universal Worship Service originated by Sufi leader Inayat Kahn (1882–1927) to invoke the One Being through indigenous and major faith traditions. “Recommitting ourselves to defending this most sacred Freedom is essential now more than ever,” said the artist, who finds religious bias in our times concerning. “At the core of all spiritual teachings are kindness and compassion, which are essential.”
Sarah Fukami, Jiyu, (Freedom), 2017. Acrylic and laser cut Plexiglas. Collection of the artist.
For Denver, Colorado artist Sarah Fukami, the irony of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms was the contradiction of Executive Order 9066, which led to the internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Here, the artist focuses on “the façade of freedom propagated by the president through the use of images taken from Manzanar, one of ten internment camps operated by the United States government during World War II. Jiyu (Freedom) seeks to reveal buried histories and warn against the repetition of these atrocities.”
Marcia Haffmans, Breaking Free through Script (Script from Within), 2018. Synesthetic fibers, Duralar, nuts, and bolts. Collection of the artist.
A Dutch immigrant and former public defender, Marcia Haffmans of Minneapolis, Minnesota, focuses on the loss of freedom and the incarceration of women by incorporating authentic commentary from those behind bars in her art. She obtained personal reflections by distributing a call for submissions to correctional facilities, inviting participants to write about any topic of importance to them. “To visualize these unheard voices, I trace fragments of the authentic handwritings of the women through hand-stitching, with needle and thread,” Haffmans said. “Each handwriting sits in a unique sculpture made from synthetic polymers and fibers as a lasting heritage.”
Bri Hermanson. Marriage Equality, 2018. Digital. Collection of the artist.
“As a queer person, marriage equality has been the greatest, most personally legitimizing freedom granted in this country in my lifetime,” said illustrator Bri Hermanson of Northampton, Massachusetts. “To me, the evolution of marriage laws are an expansion of the ideals of freedom presented by Roosevelt and Rockwell.” Referencing the marriage tradition of “something old and something new,” the artist included the circular element that symbolized the early Saturday Evening Post, while same-sex marriage represents the dawn of a new age. Bri Hermanson’s clients include Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Pentagram, Xerox, American Bar Association, Southern Poverty Law Center, and many others.
Chris Hopkins, An Uncertain Future, 2014. Oil on panel. Collection of the artist.
Inspired by Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Fear, this emotional work by Chris Hopkins of Everett, Washington looks back on the Japanese internment during World War II, “with the hope that something like this will never happen again.” The artist’s paintings celebrate the human spirit, focusing on subjects of cultural importance. Widely-published as an illustrator, he has created imagery for many commissions, including the film, entertainment, and sports industries—from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to the Super Bowl.
Chris Hopkins, Freedom from Want, 2017. Oil on panel. Collection of the artist.
Freedom from Want addresses the right to an adequate standard of living, and to sufficient food, clothing, and shelter. As the artist’s poignant work reveals, “the ever-present image of homelessness represents a longing for those very things.” On any given night, more than 643,000 people experience homelessness in America, including families, veterans, and those suffering from mental illness and fleeing from domestic violence. The artist’s new book, Eagle Dancing, features paintings inspired by the Native American peoples of the Northwest.
Sarah Hoskins, Jumpin Jimtown, 2004. Gelatin silver print. Collection of the artist.
This image by Sarah Hoskins of Libertyville, Illinois, is part of The Homeplace, a series of photographs focusing on the African American hamlets in Kentucky’s inner Bluegrass Region. “In the decade after the Civil War, these were originally inhabited by freed slaves who worked on area farms,” wrote the artist. “My project is a tribute to the elders who learned of slavery at their grandparents’ knees and endured the Jim Crow south—who lived ‘separate but equal’ and saw milestones and their impacts, including desegregation, social segregation, and the election of President Barack Obama. The residents did much more than endure and survive negative circumstances, they rose above them and thrived.”
Felice House, Olive Branch, 2016. Oil on canvas. Collection of the artist.
Felice House of Austin, Texas is a representational figurative painter focused on feminist portraiture. “Today women paint women as we see ourselves,” said the artist, in contrast with the passive, overly-sexualized portrayals that are culturally pervasive. Olive Branch, which is set against a Syrian landscape, serves as a tribute to the unrecognized women who have championed peace.
Esther Iverem, Through Many Dangers, Toils, and Snares, 2017. Mixed media. Collection of the artist.
This work by Esther Iverem of Washington, D.C., “interrogates the Four Freedoms through the experience of Africans who survived the Middle Passage, enslavement in the United States, Reconstruction, the totalitarianism of Jim Crow and—one hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation—a new century of challenges and hope.” A fiber artist, Iverem has constructed her piece from denim jeans and other reclaimed materials that individually carry their own narratives.
Kenneth Laird, Freedom of Speech—Fake News, 2017. Graphite pencil and Photoshop on rag paper. Collection of the artist.
Created as a drawing and completed with digital media, this piece by Kenneth Laird of High Point, North Carolina offers a contemporary perspective on Freedom of Speech. “The American diet of round-the-clock cable news and the proliferation of ‘Fake News’ stories on social media has eroded this freedom’s foundation,” said the artist. An accomplished creative director, Laird is also a professional illustrator and portraitist
Lisa Long, Religious Family Tree, 2017. Cut paper on board. Collection of the artist.
For Lisa Long of Dublin, California, “human connection is vital to our existence—connection to each other, to nature, to ideas. These are all part of the great human experience. My work in paper cutting reflects this need for connection because each part is integral to the structure of the overall piece.” Spiritual leaders representing diverse faiths and cultural traditions are represented in her art, including Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama. A Muslim woman, a Sikh man, an Orthodox Jewish man, and a Hindi woman “who live their religious beliefs” are also integral to the composition.
Jonathan Monaghan, The Friend of the Family, 2017. Digital print on aluminum. Collection of the artist.
Evoking collective fears surrounding authority, commercialism, and technology, Jonathan Monaghan’s video installations and related prints portray a kind of dystopic fantasy. This piece depicts an idealized bedroom, in which an ominous technological contraption hovers like an alien spaceship. Golden surveillance cameras and stanchions evoke a type of security state. “Referencing Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Fear, my work subverts Rockwell’s warm, family scene in favor of a glossy, dehumanized coldness, eliciting fears and anxieties surrounding technology and the future,” said the artist, who is based in Washington, D.C.
Tim Needles, Four Freedoms Today, 2018. Digital video. Collection of the artist.
Tim Needles’ video presents forty opinions on the state of the Four Freedoms today. The artist invited a diverse group of residents to offer their thoughts, which he captured first-hand. “A range of interpretations are represented,” notes Needles, who invited contemporary consideration of Roosevelt’s ideals. An award-winning artist and educator from Port Jefferson, New York, he has taught art and media for twenty years.
Maurice ‘Pops’ Peterson, Freedom from What?, 2015. Digital photograph on canvas. Collection of Vivian Steinberg.
In 2015, Maurice ‘Pops’ Peterson debuted Reinventing Rockwell, a series of artworks reimagining iconic paintings by the famed American illustrator for today’s times. Celebrating diversity and exploring the evolution of gender roles and shifting notions of sexuality, the series includes this striking piece, which takes inspiration from Rockwell’s Freedom from Fear. Like Rockwell, Peterson enlisted neighbors and friends as models, and utilized the newspaper in the father’s hand to call attention to a timely subject. The headline refers to a July 2014 incident, when Eric Garner, an unarmed African American man, died while being held in a choke hold by police. Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” were repeated several times and captured on video. An award-winning artist, designer, and writer, Peterson was named the first Artist in Residence of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
Robyn Phillips-Pendleton, Untitled, 2018. Acrylic on board. Collection of the artist.
Robyn Phillips-Pendleton examines questions of American identity and inclusiveness for people of different races, cultures, and religions who seek the ideals of freedom reflected in Roosevelt’s words and Rockwell’s imagery. Associate Professor of Visual Communications at University of Delaware, Newark, in the Department of Art and Design, Robyn Phillips-Pendleton has worked as a graphic designer and illustrator, creating imagery for institutions, magazines, and books. A United States Air Force Artist, she has been commissioned to create paintings featuring the activities of the armed forces, including their presence in Haiti following a catastrophic earthquake and readiness training of the 113th F-16 Air Alert Wing.
Daisy Rockwell, Collection of the artist.
Arrested Series, 2013. Acrylic on panel or linen.
Daisy Rockwell grew up in a family of artists in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, painting and making art. A granddaughter of Norman Rockwell, she received a doctorate in literature from the University of Chicago and pursued a career in academia at Loyola University and the University of California, Berkeley as a scholar of South Asian literature fluent in Urdu. When she returned to New England, she began painting again, developing series like Arrested to spur public dialogue and give voice to the incarcerated—particularly women—who strive to be heard. “I’ve done paintings of politicians and dictators, and there are thousands of pictures of these people on the Internet,” said the artist. “But for these women, there was hardly anything. Their lives were only scantily documented.” Drawn from photographic police records, her subjects confront the viewer directly in works that resemble Mughal miniatures, the tiny, gem-like illustrations produced in South Asia from 16th to the 19th centuries. Rockwell is the author of The Little Book of Terror and Taste. Her translation of Upendranath Ashk’s novel, Girti Divarein, was published as Falling Walls, and she has also translated the works of Hindi writer Bhisham Sahni, among others.
Jarvis Rockwell, father of Daisy Rockwell and son of Norman Rockwell.
Deborah Samia, The Four Freedoms (A Tribute to Norman Rockwell), 2018. Hydrocal plaster reinforced with fiberglass. Collection of the artist.
Sculptor Deborah Samia’s bas reliefs reimagine each of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms with a contemporary twist. “Those living in the margins of our society should have their voices heard,” wrote the artist, who lives in Oakland, California. Freedom of Speech portrays a female night janitor, who may be undervalued at work, but is the matriarch and provider for her family at home. “In Freedom of Worship, I include Eastern religions that have flourished in our country since Rockwell’s lifetime…Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism. Our country can be unified in knowing that we are all Americans, even while honoring our different heritages and beliefs.” In Freedom from Want, an African American family shares a meal, “a safe place where young and old, friends and family, are welcomed in anticipation of the feast.” Freedom of Fear depicts a Sikh family living in fear of hate crimes.
Kathryn Scott, Grassroots, 2017. Photograph. Collection of the artist.
A resident of Chicago, Illinois, Kathryn Scott is a photographer who takes inspiration from her family’s heritage as part of the Great Migration of African Americans who moved from the South to Northern states during the early twentieth century. “I don’t just see people moving through life when I look through the lens of my camera, but a story on every face,” said the artist. As in this work, she is especially interested in what connects us, and seeks to capture “images that coax in the viewer a feeling of universal familiarity, and an awareness of the freedoms that we hold dear in our nation.”
Robert Selby, Colored/White, 2016. Oil on wooden door. Collection of the artist.
Robert Selby of Colton, New York has observed that “despite the election of Barack Obama, the first president of color, this nation has yet to come to terms with the legacy of slavery and segregation. Racism confronts America like a closed door. We have made progress, but we are not truly free as long as doors remain closed. My diptych, Colored/White, takes Negro League baseball as a theme because our ability to overcome barriers intersects profoundly in this uniquely American pastime.” A self-taught artist who began his career as a newspaper illustrator, Selby has taught at Rhode Island School of Design and University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.
Andréanna Seymore, Mother and Daughter, Women’s March, 2017. Photograph. Collection of the artist.
Andréanna Seymore uses photography as a means of inquiry into social class, subculture, and counterculture. Her vivid color work captures the organized chaos of everyday people, and illuminates them in ways that prompt the viewer to think about what is occurring beyond the frame. A resident of New York City, she traveled to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. where she captured this image of a mother and daughter in the midst of the crowd. Photographs from her recent monograph, Scars and Stripes: The Culture of Modern Roller Derby, have been acquired by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Soody Sharifi, The Game, 2018. Photograph. Collection of the artist.
Iranian American photographer Soody Sharifi of Houston, Texas has a foot planted firmly in both cultures, and often explores the notion of identity in her art. Her piece was inspired by Norman Rockwell’s 1967 painting for Look, New Kids in the Neighborhood. “The Game asks what it means to be both American and Moslem today,” said the artist. “Is there a conflict between the two identities, particularly during the formative period of adolescence? How have Muslims viewed themselves within American culture, and how has that changed post 9/11?” Exhibited widely, Sharifi’s work primarily deals with the paradoxes and contradictions inherent in living between two cultures.
Leslie Sills, Le Marché, 2017. Oil on panel. Collection of the artist.
Le Marché captures the light and color of Italy’s Adriatic coast, where “a Muslim woman checks her cell phone with her baby happily secured on her back—the two about to shop at an outdoor market overflowing with fruits and vegetables.” This scene caused the artist to reflect on the nature of freedom in the many aspects of our lives. Leslie Sills is a painter, author, and art educator who resides in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Fazilat Soukhakian, Iran, Women, Hijab, 2011. Photograph on fabric. Collection of the artist.
“As an Iranian woman, artist and photographer, politics has defined my life,” said Fazilat Soukhakian of Salt Lake City, Utah. Fascinated by human interest stories and what they tell us about society, her work primarily deals with the political and social aspects of her surroundings. “Although it has been more than seventy-seven years since Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke about the Four Freedoms, which he regarded to be essential on a universal level, many people across the world still struggle with obtaining these freedoms. In this particular photograph, a child and women are depicted in a contemporary patriarchal society, in which their voice, appearance, and bodies are controlled by a religiously-entangled government.”
Amy Wike, Refuge, 2017. Yarn and Morse code written on paper. Collection of the artist.
In this work, Amy Wike of Washington, D.C., presents a unique transcription of one crucial sentence from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech. “The advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,” has been knitted in Morse code, in English (blue), Somali (red), French (representing the Democratic Republic of the Congo; gray), and Arabic (representing Syria; green). “The last three languages represent the top three nations from which refugees arrived in the United States in 2017,” the artist notes. “My work plays with the ideas of translation, interpretation, and the complexities of language. The resulting amorphous shapes act as visual representations of the intricacies of communication.”
Peter Zierlein, Freedom of Speech, 2017. Digital Collection of the artist.
A native of Germany and resident of Northampton, Massachusetts, Peter Zierlein feels that “freedom of speech is under attack. We live in the post-fact era,” an era of fake news. In this work, he chose “a red, white and blue theme, as these issues are American issues, and the colors represent the polarity in society.” The artist has created elaborate papercuts for posters, murals, and illustrations for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Nation, among others.
Original Saturday Evening Post, February 28, 1943, open to illustration of Freedom of Worship and essay by Will Durant.
Roosevelt House Collection.
Norman Rockwell. My Adventures as an Illustrator. 1960.
Roosevelt House Collection.
Norman Rockwell. Rockwell on Rockwell. How I Make a Picture.1979.
Roosevelt House Collection.
World War II Victory Medal. Service medal with inscriptions of the Four Freedoms. Obverse: figure of liberation. Roosevelt House Collection gift of Susan Marx and Philip B.Kivitz