Laurie Norton Moffatt was majoring in art history at Connecticut College in 1977 when she did a summer internship at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. She didn’t know much about one of America’s most iconic illustrators back then.
But that summer proved to be an eye-opening experience. Norton Moffatt, who grew up in Pittsfield after moving to the Berkshires from suburban New York City, joined the museum full-time after graduating from college the following year and has never looked back.
“I knew what a lot of other people of my age knew,” said, Norton Moffatt, who was 19 at the time. “That my parents had a big coffee table book of his pictures.”
In 1986, Norton Moffatt became the director and CEO of the Rockwell Museum, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year.
Norton Moffatt made headlines in 2017 when she was one of the first local advocates to speak out against the Berkshire Museum’s plans to sell 40 of its pieces at auction — including two Rockwell paintings — to raise funds for an endowment and renovations. That helped ignite a groundswell against the project and a vetting of the plan by the State Attorney General’s Office. The museum eventually decided to retain 18 of the 40 artworks slated for the auction block. “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” — an evening-time peak through the window of a barbershop where men have gathered to play music in the backroom — was still sold. New owner, filmmaker George Lucas, has loaned it to the Rockwell Museum, where it will be on display through next year.
The Berkshires, in western Massachusetts, are one of those tourist destinations where you feel the need to set your watch back fifty years or so. The region is conservative, with a small “c,” sprinkled with small farms, rolling hills, clapboard houses. It is, quite literally, Norman Rockwell country—for the last quarter century of his life, Rockwell lived in Berkshire County.
In recent weeks, however, the oldest museum in Pittsfield, the Berkshires’ largest town, has divided the local community, prompted an investigation by the Massachusetts attorney general, and placed this bucolic county at the center of a firestorm.
Two paintings by Norman Rockwell—Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop, 1940, and Shuffleton Barbershop, 1950—are among a group of forty artworks lined up to be sold at auction from the collection of the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The proceeds from the sales will be used to fund the Berkshire’s $20 million renovation and $40 million endowment, report Helen Stoilas and Gabriella Angeleti of the Art Newspaper. Some say the venue, which belongs to the American Alliance of Museums, is violating the coalition’s code of ethics, as sales of this kind are typically done to support the purchase of other artworks for an institution’s permanent collection.