The Fantastical Faces of Peter Rockwell: A Sculptor's Retrospective



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"The Tree of Life"
Sculptor Peter Rockwell was commissioned to create "The Tree of Life," the bronze sculpture which opens this short documentary, for Boston College in 2004. The sculpture represents an olive tree, with the center space resembling a pair of hands, holding an infant who is reaching skyward. Four faces line the bottom of the sculpture, each flowing water into the fountain. According to the college, the goal was to "enrich the campus aesthetically and spiritually." Read more about the sculpture here:

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"The Family Business"
Peter Rockwell was born in New Rochelle, NY, in 1936. He is the youngest of three sons to artist Norman Rockwell and his wife Mary. Like their father, all three sons went on to work in creative fields; the oldest son Jarvis is a modern artist ("Maya"), middle son Tom is a writer ("How To Eat Fried Worms"), and Peter became a noted sculptor and historian on the art of stone carving.

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Early commissions
One of Peter Rockwell's earliest commissions was a series of sculptural reliefs created for The Women's Memorial Bell Tower at Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge, New Hampshire. The 1974 commission was to honor the patriotism and sacrifice of American women during wartime. His father was originally invited to create the designs for the 55-foot structure, and agreed to accept the assignment if he could choose the sculptor- he chose Peter. "He was always good like that," remarked the artist recently. "That kept us going for about four years."

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There's no place like Rome
In 1961 Peter Rockwell received a traveling fellowship from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Peter and his wife Cynthia made the choice to spend time in Italy, where Rockwell could explore the country's great sculpture first hand. He journeyed from New York to Genoa with his wife and toddler son Geoffrey by Yugoslavian freighter, the "cheapest way to travel across the Atlantic." After a visit with Cynthia's parents, who were living near Pisa at the time, the Rockwells went to Rome, where they planned to live for six months.

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Inside the artist's studio
This footage, shot in Peter Rockwell's studio in Rome, Italy, was part of a profile on the artist which appeared on Bravo! TV's "Arts&Minds" program back in 2003. The plaster piece Rockwell is working on in this clip was created as a reference for his bronze sculpture "The Tree of Life, which appears at the beginning of this video.

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Set in stone
“I found that I had a natural three-dimensional sense that was satisfied by working in sculpture.” —Peter Rockwell Though he works in a variety of media, Peter Rockwell has always taken pleasure in sculpting stone. In Italy, he enjoys access to the fine marble quarried in the Tuscan city of Carrara, where equipment, tools, and experienced carvers are always accessible. “Stonecarving is still a living trade in Italy,” an aspect of life there that has provided ongoing inspiration.

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Influences and inspiration
"At the moment, I am more excited about Indian stone carving than I am about almost anything else. I'm always excited about Bernini. I've always liked Donatello's work very much. I've always liked Calder's sculpture very much, although I'm not abstract the way he is."-- Peter Rockwell from the exhibition catalogue "The Fantastical Faces of Peter Rockwell: A Sculptor's Retrospective." Purchase the catalogue online:,2249.html --

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Some kind of monster
“I guess I’ve always done monsters because they relate to earth and stone. They’re a fantasy.”—Peter Rockwell Peter Rockwell’s art invites us to enter the world of mermaids, monsters, and the imagination. Fantasy emerges as a prevalent theme for the artist, who feels that subjects based in unreality give him “more of a freedom of abstraction.” Far from gruesome, his lively figural inventions are usually lighthearted. Admittedly “incapable of creating a nasty creature,” his art offers playful reflections on “humanity in a different guise.”

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Spiritual journey
Since moving to Italy, Peter Rockwell has been actively involved with the Catholic Church, both attending and providing his artistic talents. Among his commissions was an intensive collaboration with architects and builders on the creation of a cloister at the Chioggia Diocesan Museum near Venice in 2000. At its completion, the artist had carved 42 capitals, each one different, as well as 38 grotesques and an extensive series of terracotta masks for the cloister's facade.

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Everybody loves a circus
The animated tumblers and acrobats, who bring excitement to every circus performance, have captivated Peter Rockwell since boyhood. Family trips to New York City to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus are fondly remembered by the artist, who still savors the opportunity to enjoy a show, whatever the time or place. “One of the wonderful things about Italy,” where Rockwell lives, in Rome, “[is that] it has a winter circus season.” The opportunity to sketch the human form in motion is taken full advantage of when the circus comes to town each December.

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Please touch the works of art!
"Sit quietly on a bench nearby and you'll see people walking around the sculptures to view them from all angles, and children climbing on and through them. This invitation to interact, a growing tradition in three-dimensional work everywhere, removes all remnants of 'don't touch me' from art. Rockwell's sculpture says instead, in surface and spirit, 'please touch me.'- from the essay "Caught in Motion" by Annette Grant. Excerpt from "Peter Rockwell: A Sculptor's Retrospective" exhibition catalogue.

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Video for the exhibition "Fantastical Faces of Peter Rockwell: A Sculptor's Retrospective," featuring the work of the acclaimed sculptor and youngest son of artist Norman Rockwell. The exhibition will be on view at Norman Rockwell Museum from July 11 through October 25, 2009.

As a young man, Peter Rockwell had no interest in pursuing a career as an artist, and intentionally avoided the arts because they were "too much in the family." A student of English literature at Haverford College, he eventually enrolled in a sculpture class at the prompting of his mother, Mary Rockwell, and "fell head-over-heels in love with it."

Today a noted sculptor and art historian, Peter Rockwell's vibrant, animated works, inspired by circus acrobats, animals in motion, gargoyles, and monsters are featured in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, The Bridgeport Museum of American Art, and the Norman Rockwell Museum, which holds the largest compilation of his art. A leading scholar of the history of stone carving, he has documented his knowledge in "The Art of Stoneworking," his highly-regarded reference guide. An outstanding collection of the artists bronze, marble, and limestone sculptures will be on view this year as part of Norman Rockwell Museums fortieth anniversary.

Video produced by Jeremy Clowe for Norman Rockwell Museum. ©2009 Norman Rockwell Museum. All rights reserved.

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