A Collections Spotlight - Artist Bernadine Stetzel

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Artist Bernadine Stetzel

Collections Spotlights are a Museum series highlighting specific aspects of the Kennedy assassination story through rarely-seen objects, pictures, footage and oral histories in the Museum’s collection. This particular Collections Spotlight features American artist Bernadine Stetzel, including a selection of paintings from her Kennedy Series and quotes from the Museum’s oral history interview with her.

American artist Bernadine Stetzel (b. 1927) has described her distinctive style as “a little bit between Grandma Moses and Norman Rockwell.” After experimenting with realism early in life, Stetzel soon found that she preferred an “imaginary or child-like” approach, commonly known as the primitive or naïve style.

An enthusiastic supporter of John F. Kennedy, Stetzel was devastated by his assassination in 1963, when she was 36 years old. Shortly after visiting the president’s gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery in 1968, Stetzel began work on a series of paintings that illustrated the life of the late president. Working on the series off and on until 1985, Stetzel created 71 paintings portraying both political and private events from President Kennedy’s life, including scenes of his inauguration, the March on Washington and scenes of his assassination and funeral.

Her works capture real historical events but at the same time are “imagined,” as Stetzel puts it, filtered through memory and creativity. Some of her paintings were inspired by well-known photographs, while others represent more abstract or creative interpretation of events as the artist saw or imagined them.

This series of paintings represents a unique personal response to the death of President Kennedy and the still-powerful Kennedy legacy. Stetzel donated her collection of Kennedy paintings to The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in 2011 and also recorded a videotaped interview for the institution’s ongoing Oral History Project.

To view each painting in our online database, click here.