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Norman Rockwell exhibit opens Friday at the Averitt Center
Signed prints from Tom Sawyer Huck Finn Traveling Exhibition featured
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One of the prints from the Norman Rockwell Tom Sawyer Huck Finn Traveling Exhibition that will be part of the Averitt Center exhibit opening Friday at the Averitt Center is shown above. - photo by Courtesy Norman Rockwell Museum

  Tom Sawyer and his pal Huck Finn are all around Statesboro these days. The characters created by the mischievous mind of Mark Twain are the focus of a multitude of events that began in January and take center stage this week.
      The highlight of the week is a reception for the opening of Norman Rockwell’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn traveling exhibition on Friday at the Averitt Center for the Arts. The exhibition will feature rare signed prints of the 16 oil paintings Rockwell was commissioned to produce in 1935 for illustrated editions of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
      “To say I’m excited about the exhibition is an understatement,” said Tim Chapman, executive director of the Averitt Center. “Many people may have seen these works in books or on a computer, but to see them in person I think will be an amazing experience for people. Rockwell’s attention to detail and the essence of his subjects really come out when you view the prints up close.”
      The public is invited to the reception, which begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday on the third floor of the Averitt Center. Southeast Bulloch High School’s culinary class will cook several southern dishes for the reception. People can then enjoy the exhibition in the main gallery before heading inside the Emma Kelly Theater at 7:30 p.m. to watch the premiere of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
       The play is produced by Statesboro’s Tony Phillips and features a cast of 40 area actors. The reception and exhibition are free, but there is an admission charge for the play. Call 212-2787 for information.
      Chapman said he worked with the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., on getting the Tom Sawyer exhibition to the Averitt Center for two years.
      “We’re seeing a renewed interest over the past five years in our traveling exhibitions,” said Jeremy Clowe, manager of media services for the museum. “Norman Rockwell was a brilliant artist, but his work went beyond art. His 323 covers for the ‘Saturday Evening Post’ documented much of the 20th Century.”
       The free exhibition will be on display at the Averitt Center through May 7 and Chapman said the center would offer guided tours of the exhibit with two docents. The tours would be arranged for groups by appointment only and even for individuals if an artist was available. Again, call 212-2787 for tour information.
       One of the docents is retired Georgia Southern art professor Roxie Remley.
      “It’s just marvelous to have an exhibition of this stature to come to Statesboro,” Remley said. “I grew up with Rockwell’s illustrations in the Saturday Evening Post. He was the outstanding illustrator of his day and his work went beyond that. I’m really looking to seeing the prints for myself.”
      In 1935 George Macy, publisher of the Heritage Press and Limited Editions Club books, commissioned Rockwell to create the illustrations for deluxe editions of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."
      Rockwell produced eight oil paintings for each book. In preparation, Rockwell traveled to Twain's hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, which was the basis for his fictional setting of St. Petersburg, Missouri. The ensuing works capture the feel of the novels while depicting some of their most famous scenes including Tom tricking his friends into whitewashing a fence.
      The traveling exhibition is comprised of 16 signed, limited-edition prints from Rockwell's own collection.
      Also, the Averitt Center is partnering with the Statesboro library to build artistic and educational activities around Norman Rockwell, Mark Twain and his fictional characters, said Melinda Roell, development consultant for the Center.
      "The Norman Rockwell/Tom Sawyer project emphasizes the connection between literature, fine art, performing art and film," Roell said. "This multi-genre experience will serve to educate and inspire a broad range of participants."
      Activities include a community discussion of the novel Tom Sawyer on April 8 and an art contest on the theme "childhood adventures." More than 100 works were submitted for the art contest and the winners will be announced at Friday evening’s reception at the Averitt Center. All the works will remain on display at the library through April 10.
      Also, on Sunday, April 11 the Emma Kelly Theater will present a free show of the classic movie version at 2 p.m.
      “This truly is a multimedia celebration of a true American classic novel,” said Sharon Rowe, executive director of the Regional Library System.
      Paperback copies of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” are available for $1 at the Statesboro library.
“The object of our traveling exhibitions is to share our collections with as many people as possible,” Clowe said. “I know the folks in Statesboro will really enjoy these tremendous works.”