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Mort Künstler exhibits open at Heckscher Museum of Art

Norman Rockwell's

Norman Rockwell's "Under the Mistletoe (Merrie Christmas)" is part of "Norman Rockwell and Friends: American Illustrations From the Mort Künstler Collection," opening Dec. 10 at the Heckscher Museum of Art. Photo Credit: Norman Rockwell’s “Under the Mistletoe (Merrie Christmas)” is part of “Norman Rockwell and Friends: American Illustrations From the Mort Künstler Collection,” opening Dec. 10 at the Heckscher Museum of Art.

WHAT “Norman Rockwell and Friends: American Illustrations From the Mort Künstler Collection” and “Mort Künstler: The New Nation”

WHEN | WHERE Opening Saturday, “Rockwell” through March 5, “New Nation” through April 2, Heckscher Museum of Art, 2 Prime Ave., Huntington. Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, until 8:30 p.m. first Friday of the month

ADMISSION $8, $6 seniors $5 students (Huntington resident discounts), children younger than 10 and first Friday extended hours free; 631-351-3250, heckscher.org

The name Künstler is all over the two Heckscher Museum of Art shows opening Saturday. But you’ll see his art mostly in “Mort Künstler: The New Nation.” In “Norman Rockwell and Friends: American Illustrations From the Mort Künstler Collection,” the Heckcher presents the first-ever survey of works by fellow illustrators he collected over five decades of his career.

The collections are from Künstler’s Oyster Bay Cove home neighboring Teddy Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill. Earlier this year, Künstler, 89, had a Long Island Museum retrospective, “The Art of Adventure,” covering both his career as a painter of historic scenes and illustrator for pulp magazines and ads.

“I love painting,” he says. “It almost doesn’t matter if it’s a girl holding a bar of soap or a soldier with a rifle.”

At the Heckscher, the soldiers are Künstler’s. The others, save one, are by those he admired.

‘NORMAN ROCKWELL AND FRIENDS’

Maxfield Parrish’s art — subject of a recent Nassau County Museum of Art exhibit — greets you at the lobby entrance with indigo-hued “Janion’s Maple (aka Under Summer Skies),” the first of 75 objects.

Parrish, from illustration’s Golden Age (1880-1930), lived long enough — he died in 1996 at age 95 — to see illustrations rise to the level of fine art. “Weekly periodicals were mass media, like TV and internet today,” says Heckscher Museum curator Lisa Chalif. “Illustrations appearing in them were not regarded as museum quality.”

Dean Cornwell’s “Captain Blood,” from a Hearst serial, captures the swashbuckling of 1930s pulp magazines. Nearby is a bronze “Bronco Buster” Frederic Remington sculpted from his 1892 Harper’s Weekly image. Among battle scenes are Winslow Homer’s “Rush’s Lancers” Civil War panel and N.C. Wyeth’s World War I “Kamarad.”

Publishers of classic literature also commissioned illustrations. In a display case, “Tales From Shakespeare” is open to the page with Norman Mills’ 1905 “Othello” gouache.

Rockwell’s “Under the Mistletoe” 1936 Saturday Evening Post cover is flanked by charcoal studies of the Colonial male and female figures. While Rockwell dominated Post covers for decades, Joseph Christian Leydendecker created his share, including “Easter Promenade” (1932). Nearby, Cornwell’s “Old-Fashioned Picnic” for Redbook in 1917 evokes an Impressionist painting.

When crossing the lobby toward Künstler’s “New Nation,” stop to see his pulp illustration “Buried Alive for Four Months.”

‘THE NEW NATION’

Spanning nearly two centuries from “The New World: Jamestown, 1607” to “Washington’s Inaugural, 1789,” Künstler’s paintings, arranged chronologically, re-create historic highlights in vivid color and, where needed, dramatic nocturnal scenes. Among the latter are “Boston Tea Party, Dec. 16, 1773,” “Two If By Sea” — two lanterns in Old North Church’s steeple signaling the landing by British troops, “The Regulars are Out!” shouted by Paul Revere in his night ride on April 19, 1775, and “Washington’s Crossing: McKonkey’s Ferry, Dec. 26, 1776,” commissioned by Rep.-elect Thomas Suozzi.

Also depicted: “Signing of the Declaration of Independence” and, a few days later, Washington reading it to his troops, and “Surrender at Yorktown.”

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