View the CBS Sunday Morning segment here…

Norman Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms,” then and now aired on CBS Morning on September 2, 2018

“The Four Freedoms,” first proclaimed years ago by an American president, have inspired (and continue to inspire) a remarkable body of American art, as Anna Werner now shows us:

It’s January 1941. War rages in Europe, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt must convince Americans their country will have to enter the war against the Nazis. So, in the midst of one of the most dire periods in history, he delivered a speech. Key to that speech, the “Four Freedoms” – goals he believed were worth fighting for.

“The Four Freedoms, as articulated, did not garner much attention,” said Laurie Norton-Moffatt, the director of the Norman Rockwell Museum. “Americans had little appetite to return to war.  World War I had been devastating in its consequences. America was still coming out of the Great Depression, and there were many people who were still struggling for housing and jobs and food.” So, the speech fell flat … until artist Norman Rockwell took Roosevelt’s words and translated them into iconic American images: “Freedom of Speech” … “Freedom of Worship” … “Freedom From Want” … and “Freedom From Fear.”

Moffatt said, “He realized he needed to take these ideas down to everyday life – things that everyone anywhere could appreciate.” When they were published in 1943 in one of the nation’s top-selling magazines, The Saturday Evening Post, the pictures were seen by millions. “They just took off across the country, with meaning and patriotism,” she said.

The paintings went on tour, and helped raise $133 million for the war effort.

On Sept. 14, 1956, Rockwell appeared with Edward R. Murrow on CBS’ “person to Person.” Murrow asked the artist, “Do you have any idea of how many copies have been made of those paintings?”

“I don’t really know,” Rockwell replied. “I know it runs into millions and millions.”

And now, they’re traveling again, this time in an exhibition to celebrate their 75th anniversary, with its first stop at the New York Historical Society. (The exhibit next travels to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.)