Norman P Rockwell (1894 - 1978)



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(February 3, 1894 – November 8, 1978)
Without thinking too much about it in specific terms, I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed.
—Norman Rockwell
Born in New York City in 1894, Norman Rockwell always wanted to be an artist. At age 14, Rockwell enrolled in art classes at The New York School of Art (formerly The Chase School of Art). Two years later, in 1910, he left high school to study art at The National Academy of Design. He soon transferred to The Art Students League, where he studied with Thomas Fogarty and George Bridgman. Fogarty’s instruction in illustration prepared Rockwell for his first commercial commissions. From Bridgman, Rockwell learned the technical skills on which he relied throughout his long career.
Rockwell found success early. He painted his first commission of four Christmas cards before his sixteenth birthday. While still in his teens, he was hired as art director of Boys’ Life, the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America, and began a successful freelance career illustrating a variety of young people’s publications.
At age 21, Rockwell’s family moved to New Rochelle, New York, a community whose residents included such famous illustrators as J.C. and Frank Leyendecker and Howard Chandler Christy. There, Rockwell set up a studio with the cartoonist Clyde Forsythe and produced work for such magazines as Life, Literary Digest, and Country Gentleman. In 1916, the 22-year-old Rockwell painted his first cover for The Saturday Evening Post, the magazine considered by Rockwell to be the “greatest show window in America.” Over the next 47 years, another 321 Rockwell covers would appear on the cover of the Post. Also in 1916, Rockwell married Irene O’Connor; they divorced in 1930.
The 1930s and 1940s are generally considered to be the most fruitful decades of Rockwell’s career. In 1930 he married Mary Barstow, a schoolteacher, and the couple had three sons, Jarvis, Thomas, and Peter. The family moved to Arlington, Vermont, in 1939, and Rockwell’s work began to reflect small-town American life.
In 1943, inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s address to Congress, Rockwell painted the Four Freedoms paintings. They were reproduced in four consecutive issues of The Saturday Evening Post with essays by contemporary writers. Rockwell’s interpretations of Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear proved to be enormously popular. The works toured the United States in an exhibition that was jointly sponsored by the Post and the U.S. Treasury Department and, through the sale of war bonds, raised more than $130 million for the war effort.
Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), "Freedom of Speech," 1943
"Freedom of Worship," 1943, Norman Rockwell (1894-1978). Oil on canvas, 46” x 35 ½”. Story illustration for "The Saturday Evening Post," February 27, 1943. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. ©1943 SEPS: Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN
Freedom of Worship
"Freedom from Want," Norman Rockwell, 1943. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. ©1943 SEPS: Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN
Freedom from Want
Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), "Freedom From Fear," 1943
Freedom from Fear
Although the Four Freedoms series was a great success, 1943 also brought Rockwell an enormous loss. A fire destroyed his Arlington studio as well as numerous paintings and his collection of historical costumes and props.
In 1953, the Rockwell family moved from Arlington, Vermont, to Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Six years later, Mary Barstow Rockwell died unexpectedly. In collaboration with his son Thomas, Rockwell published his autobiography, My Adventures as an Illustrator, in 1960. The Saturday Evening Post carried excerpts from the best-selling book in eight consecutive issues, with Rockwell’s Triple Self-Portrait on the cover of the first.
In 1961, Rockwell married Molly Punderson, a retired teacher. Two years later, he ended his 47-year association with The Saturday Evening Post and began to work for Look magazine. During his 10-year association with Look, Rockwell painted pictures illustrating some of his deepest concerns and interests, including civil rights, America’s war on poverty, and the exploration of space.
In 1973, Rockwell established a trust to preserve his artistic legacy by placing his works in the custodianship of the Old Corner House Stockbridge Historical Society, later to become Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge. The trust now forms the core of the Museum’s permanent collections. In 1976, in failing health, Rockwell became concerned about the future of his studio. He arranged to have his studio and its contents added to the trust. In 1977, Rockwell received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In 2008, Rockwell was named the official state artist of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, thanks to a dedicated effort from students in Berkshire County, where Rockwell lived for the last 25 years of his life.
Old Corner House (Norman Rockwell Museum), Stockbridge, MA

Norman P Rockwell Biography & Family History

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Manhattan County, New York


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Stockbridge, Berkshire County, Massachusetts

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1894 - In the year that Norman P Rockwell was born, on April 21st, a coal miners' strike closed mines throughout the central United States. The Panic of 1893, and the resulting depression, hit coal miners hard and the miners only struck for 8 weeks - they couldn't afford to live without their wages any longer.

1907 - At the age of merely 13 years old, Norman was alive when the Monongah coal mining disaster occurred on December 6th, happening at the Fairmont Coal Company’s No. 6 and No. 8 mines.. Over 361 miners were killed. Because there was no breathing apparatus at the time to help rescuers, recovery efforts were greatly hampered. It is considered the worst mining disaster in American history and led to government oversight in mining practices.

1924 - Norman was 30 years old when in May, wealthy college students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb kidnapped and killed 14 year old Robert Franks "in the interest of science". Leopold and Loeb thought that they were intellectually superior and that they could commit the perfect crime and not be caught. They were brought in for questioning within 8 days and quickly confessed. Clarence Darrow was hired as their defense lawyer, getting them life imprisonment instead of a death sentence. Loeb was eventually killed in prison - Leopold was released after 33 years, dying of a heart attack at age 66.

1955 - He was 61 years old when on September 10th the TV show "Gunsmoke" debuted on CBS. It went on to be television's longest-running western. Matt Dillon, Chester, Doc Adams, and Miss Kitty became household names.

1978 - In the year of Norman P Rockwell's passing, on July 25th, Louise Brown, the first "test-tube baby", was born at Oldham Hospital in London. Louise was conceived through IVF (in vitro fertilization), a controversial and experimental procedure at the time.

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Norman Rockwell, the artist whose nostalgic evocation's of small‐town America appeared on hundreds of Saturday Evening Post covers, died Wednesday night at his home in Stockbridge, Mass., at the age of 84. He had been in failing health for two years.
Mr. Rockwell painted in a converted carriage house in Stockbridge, a town whose New England charm he captured in his paintings.
“My worst enemy is the world‐shaking idea,” he once said, “stretching my neck like a swan and forgetting that I'm a duck.” That assessment was characteristically modest, for Mr. Rockwell neglected to add that if he was in tact duck, he was an Important duck in a very big pond.
Among the many honors heaped on him was the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest peacetime award, bestowed by President Ford in January 1977.
There is hardly an American adult who at one time or another has not experienced a wave of nostalgia while gazing at a Rockwell magazine cover, Boy Scout calendar or advertisement. “He has been America's most popular artist for half a century,” Thomas S. Buechner, director of the Brooklyn Museum, wrote in 1970. “In tact, his big work has been reproduced more often than all of Michelangelo's, Rembrandt's and Picasso's put together.”
Mr. Rockwell was best known for his covers for The Saturday Evening Post, 317 of them between 1916 and 1963. Al- though it sometimes seemed that a Rockwell cover graced the magazine almost every week, his actual output averaged about one every seven. A former Post editor observed that during his experience, in the 1950's and early 60's, a Rockwell cover was good for an extra 50,000 to 75,000 newsstand sales.
This was no doubt because a typical Rockwell cover tended to evoke emotions of sentiment, reverence or poignancy: family gathered in thanksgiving around holiday table; ample Pickwickian gentlemen singing Christmas carols; freckled boys, barefoot and in tattered overalls, carrying makeshift fishing poles; the kindly doctor preparing to inoculate wide‐eyed child's bare bottom; a runaway boy at a lunch counter confiding in an understanding policeman; a tomboy with a black eye in the doctor's waiting room or shy young couples bathed in the innocence of love. And always Boy Scouts. In one way or another, Mr. Rockwell was associated with the Boy Scouts of America ever since the Scouts took over Boys’ Life magazine in 1913 and hired him to do the covers plus two story illustrations an issue, all for $75 a month. From 1926 through 1976, he illustrated the official Boy Scout calendar every year but one. Mr. Rockwell was quick to agree that the virtues he celebrated on canvas were not necessarily the way things were at all times. In 1960, he said: “Maybe I grew up and found the world wasn't the perfectly pleasant place I had thought it to be, I unconsciously decided that if it wasn't an ideal world, it should be, and so painted only the ideal aspects of it, pictures in which there were no drunken fathers, or self‐centered mothers, in which, on the contrary, there were only foxy Grandpas who played baseball with the kids, and boys fished from logs and got up circuses in the backyard. If there were problems, they were humorous problems.”
After his relationship with the Post ended in 1963, in part because the magazine was about to embark on “sophisticated muckraking” and was anxious to jettison its old image, Mr. Rockwell went to work for Look magazine. In a belated attempt to keep abreast of the social turbulence that was sweeping America, even small‐town America, he drew one cover depicting grim United States marshals escorting a solitary black girl to school in Little Rock, Ark. He also depicted the murder of three civil‐rights workers in Mississippi.
Some critics considered it too little, too late, and even Mr. Rockwell conceded that his later attempts at social relevance had not been successful.
Mr. Rockwell rarely responded to criticism; indeed, he titled his autobiography “My Adventures as an Illustrator’ in 1960. Occasionally, the sniping got to him, at one point prompting him to remark that he did not have the option to be subtle: “You've got to be obvious. You've got to please both the art editor and the public. This makes it tough on the illustrator as compared with the fine artist, who can paint an object any way he happens to interpret it.”
Mr. Rockwell finally achieved formal recognition as an artist with a 1968 exhibition of 50 of his oil paintings at the Bernard Danenberg Gallery on Madison Avenue that drew large crowds.
Four years later, a Rockwell retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum drew equally enthusiastic crowds.
Yet, not even Mr. Rockwell's severest critics faulted his painstaking craftsmanship or his eye for detail. When he decided to illustrate a dog, he went to the local dog pound, where, he said, the inmates took a beating from life and had character. Near Hannibal, Mo., where he was preparing to illustrate special editions of “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn,” he swapped his trousers and $4 for a pair of weather-beaten — and therefore “authentic” — trousers worn by a farmer who was plowing a field. Mr. Rockwell was ever a stickler for such details.
Mr. Rockwell sometimes worked from photographs, posing his models just long enough to capture them on camera. But for the first 25 years of his career, he used live models exclusively, mostly friends and neighbors. Without apparent hyperbole, he once said that he had moved to New England — to Arlington, Vt., in 1940, then in 1953 to Stockbridge, the picturesque village in the Berkshires that could well have been designed by Mr. Rockwell himself — because guileless New Englanders were the best models for the ideas he wanted to portray.
Several neighbors turned up repeatedly in his illustrations, and modeling for the tall, thin celebrity in their midst became something of a cottage industry around Arlington and Stockbridge. Willie Gillis, the imaginary G.I. whose progress Mr. Rockwell recorded through basic training to service in India, was actually a Vermont sawmill worker.
Other friends and acquaintances showed up in the “Four Freedoms” posters that appeared first on the cover of the Post and were reproduced by the millions by the Office of War Information, which distributed them across the land. Mr. Rockwell's other famous World War II magazine cover was “Rosie the Riveter,” a rotund defense worker with overalls who appeared on a May 1943 Post cover. She immediately became synonymous with the home defense effort. The model for that poster, however, was neither neighbor nor friend, but Michelangelo's “Isaiah.”
Mr. Rockwell was born in New York on Feb. 3, 1894, the elder of two sons. His father, J. Waring Rockwell, managed the New York office of a Philadelphia textile company. The family moved to Mamaroneck, N.Y., when Norman was 10 years old. During his teens, he studied for nearly two years at the Art Students’ League in Manhattan, but dropped out to begin his career.

At 17, he was drawing illustrations for several publications owned by Conde Nast, and four years later he scored with his first Saturday Evening Post cover depicting a disconsolate boy shoving baby carriage past jeering friends who were suited up for baseball. Soon afterward, Mr. Rockwell's income exceeded $40,000 a year and reportedly never fell below that, even in the Depression.

Mr. Rockwell was married three times. His first marriage, to Irene O'Connor, lasted from 1916 to 1928. In 1930, he married Mary Rhoads Barstow, a California schoolteacher. The couple had three sons, Jarvis, Thomas and Peter. The second Mrs. Rockwell died in 1959, and, in 1961, Mr. Rockwell married Mary L. Punderson, a retired English instructor at a private girls’ academy.

He will be buried tomorrow, after services at 2 P.M. in St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Stockbridge.

Associated Press


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