Dinner Topics for Friday
Artist Norman Rockwell: American Culture Values Champion
Norman Percevel Rockwell (February 3, 1894 – November 8, 1978) was a 20th-century American painter and illustrator. His works enjoy a broad popular appeal in the United States for their reflection of American culture. Rockwell is most famous for the cover illustrations of everyday life he created for The Saturday Evening Post magazine over nearly five decades. Among the best-known of Rockwell’s works are the Willie Gillis series, Rosie the Riveter, The Problem We All Live With, Saying Grace, and the Four Freedoms series. He also is noted for his 64-year relationship with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), during which he produced covers for their publication Boys’ Life, calendars, and other illustrations. These works include popular images that reflect the Scout Oath and Scout Law such as The Scoutmaster, A Scout is Reverent and A Guiding Hand, among many others.
Life and works
Norman Rockwell was born on February 3, 1894, in New York City, to Jarvis Waring Rockwell and Anne Mary “Nancy” Rockwell, née Hill. His earliest American ancestor was John Rockwell (1588–1662), from Somerset, England, who immigrated to colonial North America, probably in 1635, aboard the ship
Hopewell and became one of the first settlers of Windsor, Connecticut. He had one brother, Jarvis Waring Rockwell, Jr., older by a year and a half. Jarvis Waring, Sr., was the manager of the New York office of a Philadelphia textile firm, George Wood, Sons & Company, where he spent his entire career.
Rockwell transferred from high school to the Chase Art School at the age of 14. He then went on to the National Academy of Design and finally to the Art Students League. There, he was taught by Thomas Fogarty, George Bridgman, and Frank Vincent DuMond; his early works were produced for St. Nicholas Magazine, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) publication Boys’ Life, and other youth publications. As a student, Rockwell was given small jobs of minor importance. His first major breakthrough came at age eighteen with his first book illustration for Carl H. Claudy‘s Tell Me Why: Stories about Mother Nature.
Boy Scouts of America
After that, Rockwell was hired as a staff artist for Boys’ Life magazine. In this role, he received 50 dollars’ compensation each month for one completed cover and a set of story illustrations. It is said to have been his first paying job as an artist. At 19, he became the art editor for Boys’ Life, published by the Boy Scouts of America. He held the job for three years, during which he painted several covers, beginning with his first published magazine cover, Scout at Ship’s Wheel, which appeared on the Boys’ Life September edition.
Rockwell’s family moved to New Rochelle, New York, when Norman was 21 years old. They shared a studio with the cartoonist Clyde Forsythe, who worked for The Saturday Evening Post. With Forsythe’s help, Rockwell submitted his first successful
cover painting to the Post in 1916, Mother’s Day Off (published on May 20). He followed that success with Circus Barker and Strongman (published on June 3), Gramps at the Plate (August 5), Redhead Loves Hatty Perkins (September 16), People in a Theatre Balcony (October 14), and Man Playing Santa (December 9). Rockwell was published eight times on the Post cover within the first year. Ultimately, Rockwell published 323 original covers for The Saturday Evening Post over 47 years. His Sharp Harmony appeared on the cover of the issue dated September 26, 1936; it depicts a barber and three clients, enjoying an a cappella song. The image was adopted by SPEBSQSA in its promotion of the art.
Rockwell’s success on the cover of the Post led to covers for other magazines of the day, most notably the Literary Digest, the Country Gentleman, Leslie’s Weekly, Judge, Peoples Popular Monthly and Life magazine.
When Rockwell’s tenure began with The Saturday Evening Post in 1916, Rockwell left his salaried position at Boys’ Life, but continued to include scouts in Post cover images and the monthly magazine of the American Red Cross. He resumed work with the Boy Scouts of America in 1926 with production of his first of fifty-one original illustrations for the official Boy Scouts of America annual calendar, which still may be seen in the Norman Rockwell Art Gallery at the National Scouting Museum in the city of Irving near Dallas, Texas.
During World War I, he tried to enlist into the U.S. Navy but was refused entry because, at 140 pounds (64 kg), he was eight pounds underweight for someone 6 feet (1.8 m) tall. To compensate, he spent one night gorging himself on bananas, liquids and doughnuts, and weighed enough to enlist the next day. He was given the role of a military artist, however, and did not see any action during his tour of duty.
World War II
In 1943, during World War II, Rockwell painted the Four Freedoms series, which was completed in seven months and resulted in his losing fifteen pounds. The series was inspired by a speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt, wherein he described four principles for universal rights: Freedom from Want, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship and Freedom from Fear. The paintings were published in 1943 by The Saturday Evening Post. Rockwell used the Pennell ship-building family from Brunswick, Maine as models for two of the paintings, “Freedom from Want” and “A Thankful Mother”, and would combine models from photographs and his own vision to create his idealistic paintings. The United States Department of the Treasury later promoted war bonds by exhibiting the originals in sixteen cities. Rockwell considered “Freedom of Speech” to be the best of the four.
That same year, a fire in his studio destroyed numerous original paintings, costumes, and props. Because the period costumes and props were irreplaceable, the fire split his career into two phases, the second phase depicting modern characters and situations. Rockwell was contacted by writer Elliott Caplin, brother of cartoonist Al Capp, with the suggestion that the three of them should make a daily comic strip together, with Caplin and his brother writing and Rockwell drawing. King Features Syndicate is reported to have promised a $1,000 per week deal, knowing that a Capp-Rockwell collaboration would gain strong public interest. The project was ultimately aborted, however, as it turned out that Rockwell, known for his perfectionism as an artist, could not deliver material so quickly as would be required of him for a daily comic strip.
During the late 1940s, Norman Rockwell spent the winter months as artist-in-residence at Otis College of Art and Design. Students occasionally were models for his Saturday Evening Post covers. In 1949, Rockwell donated an original Post cover, “April Fool”, to be raffled off in a library fund raiser.
In 1959, after his wife Mary died suddenly from a heart attack, Rockwell took time off from his work to grieve. It was during that break that he and his son Thomas produced Rockwell’s autobiography, My Adventures as an Illustrator, which was published in 1960. The Post printed excerpts from this book in eight consecutive issues, the first containing Rockwell’s famous Triple Self-Portrait.
Rockwell’s last painting for the Post was published in 1963, marking the end of a publishing relationship that had included 321 cover paintings. He spent the next ten years painting for Look magazine, where his work depicted his interests in civil rights, poverty, and space exploration. In 1968, Rockwell was commissioned to do an album cover portrait of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper for their record, The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper. During his long career, he was commissioned to paint the portraits for Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, as well as those of foreign figures, including Gamal Abdel Nasser and Jawaharlal Nehru. One of his last works was a portrait of Judy Garland in 1969.
A custodianship of his original paintings and drawings was established with Rockwell’s help near his home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and the Norman Rockwell Museum still is open today year round. The museum’s collection includes more than seven hundred original Rockwell paintings, drawings, and studies. The Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies at the Norman Rockwell Museum is a national research institute dedicated to American illustration art.
His last commission for the Boy Scouts of America was a calendar illustration entitled The Spirit of ’76, which was completed when Rockwell was eighty-two, concluding a partnership which generated four hundred and seventy-one images for periodicals, guidebooks, calendars, and promotional materials. His connection to the BSA spanned sixty-four years, marking the longest professional association of his career. His legacy and style for the BSA has been carried on by Joseph Csatari.
Presidential Medal of Freedom
For “vivid and affectionate portraits of our country,” Rockwell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States of America’s highest civilian honor, in 1977.
Rockwell died November 8, 1978, of emphysema at age 84 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
Rockwell married his first wife, Irene O’Connor, in 1916. Irene was Rockwell’s model in Mother Tucking Children into Bed, published on the cover of The Literary Digest on January 19, 1921. The couple divorced in 1930, however. Depressed, he moved briefly to Alhambra, California as a guest of his old friend Clyde Forsythe. There he painted some of his best-known paintings including The Doctor and the Doll. While there he met and married schoolteacher Mary Barstow. The couple returned to New York shortly after their marriage. They had three children: Jarvis Waring, Thomas Rhodes, and Peter Barstow. The family lived at 24 Lord Kitchener Road in the Bonnie Crest neighborhood of New Rochelle, New York. For multiple reasons Rockwell and his wife were not regular church attendees although they were members of St. John’s Wilmot Church, an Episcopal church near their home, where they had their sons baptized. Rockwell moved to Arlington, Vermont, in 1939 where his work began to reflect small-town life.
In 1953, the Rockwell family moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, so that his wife could be treated at the Austen Riggs Center, a psychiatric hospital at 25 Main Street, close to where Rockwell set up his studio. Rockwell also received psychiatric treatment, seeing the analyst Erik Erikson, who was on staff at Riggs. Erikson is said to have told the artist that he painted his happiness, but did not live it. In 1959, Mary died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Rockwell married his third wife, retired Milton Academy English teacher, Mary Leete “Mollie” Punderson, on October 25, 1961. His Stockbridge studio was located on the second floor of a row of buildings; directly underneath Rockwell’s studio was, for a time in 1966, the Back Room Rest, better known as the famous “Alice’s Restaurant.” During his time in Stockbridge, chief of police William Obanhein was a frequent model for Rockwell’s paintings.
From 1961 until his death, Rockwell was a member of the Monday Evening Club, a men’s literary group based in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. At his funeral, five members of the club served as pallbearers, along with Jarvis Rockwell.