Featured Painting: A Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell's The Problem We All Live With shows a young black girl being escorted by US Marshalls past a wall of racial epithets to attend school in New Orleans. It was initially published as a centrefold in Look magazine in 1964. Rockwell painted it three years after the event occurred. It is suggested that it may have been brought to his attention by John Steinbeck's memoir, Travels with Charley: In Search of America. Driving across the country with his French Poodle, Steinbeck happened to arrive in New Orleans to witness the events. Steinbeck said, "the littlest Negro girl you ever saw, dressed in starchy white, with new white shoes on feet so little they were almost round."
Rockwell was undergoing several changes; some professional, some psychological, some political. The Kennedy era may have reawakened progressive tendencies in Rockwell that may have laid dormant.
In the news photographs that were taken a few days after she had started school, Ruby is carrying a plaid book that resembles a small briefcase. In Rockwell's, she carries instead a small stack of school supplies. A red pencil, a blue pencil, a notebook with a blue, Star-Spangled Banner symbolising perhaps the design of the American Flag.
"The littlest Negro girl you ever saw, dressed in starchy white, with new white shoes on feet so little they were almost round." John Steinbeck
The moment we instantly grasp is tense. The cropping of the Marshalls at shoulder level and with all that implies about close-up views and sliced off heads. Their anonymity stands in contrast to the straight-backed black girl, whose sombre face and vulnerability is utterly exposed. Each Marshall wears a suit in a different shade of grey. We see their polished shoes, the legs of their pants. They may be there to protect her, but they represent the law is not only impersonal but unreliable. Only Ruby has a face, and the details are essential.
By granting us the chance to see her face, Rockwell has depicted Ruby as heroic. This painting captures Ruby's courage and innocence of youth to stand up quietly, but boldly and proudly to injustice and prejudice. Reminding us to put faith in the future of our young people and continue our work to make the world a better place, even when our confidence and security have been shattered by such senseless and cowardly hatred.