Saturday, October 8, 2016

Norman Rockwell Museum

This is the very last museum of my summer tour.  I drove to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to specifically visit the home and museum of Norman Rockwell.

Stockbridge is the classic small American town.  The museum and the Rockwell studio are in a country setting that could only have inspired the famous illustrationist.

Rockwell is known for the magazine covers of the "Saturday Evening Post."

From Rockwell's first cover in 1916 to his final illustration for The Saturday Evening Post in 1963 the Post published 321 covers of original Rockwell Paintings.

This piece of artwork is at the entrance of the museum and it surprised me--it was so different from the Rockwell illustrations...

...Until I found this.  Peter Rockwell is a son of Norman Rockwell and accomplished in his own right.

Anyway, it is an interesting difference in father and son's approaches to art.

"Boy with Baby Carriage 1916
This was Rockwell's very first Saturday Evening Post cover, for which he was paid $75.

 "No Swimming", 1921

Upon the urging of a fellow illustrator and friend, Norman Rockwell walked into the Philadelphia headquarters of the Post in early 1916 with two paintings he hoped to have published on the cover of the most widely read publication in the U.S.  Editor George Horace Lorimer was so impressed that he immediately purchased the works.

"Boy and Girl gazing at Moon" 1926
(Puppy Love)

"Self Portrait"

As an illustrator, Rockwell struggled with deadlines his entire life.  "Meeting deadlines and thinking up ideas are the scourges of an illustrator's life," he said. 

"Boy in a Dining Car" 1946
Based on an incident experienced by Rockwell's young son, the boy in the picture is trying to calculate the waiter's tip.

"The Gossips"  

The models for these 'gossips' were all friends and neighbors.  Rockwell himself is in the last two frames.

"The Art Critic" 1955

In the corner of the above painting of the girl on the bus:

"to Walt Disney
one of the really great artists--from an admirer
Norman Rockwell"

The painting was a gift to Disney and returned to the museum after Walt Disney died.

I could not get over how many of the over 300 paintings or illustrations were familiar to me.

So many of them are part of the memories of growing up...

...for anyone more than 50 years old.

An especially for the townspeople of Stockbridge, Ma. these paintings are a chronicle of the residents, their families and their friends.

The paintings also chronicle our country's history...

"Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms" 1943

"Freedom of Worship"

During the height of WWII, Norman Rockwell painted four of the most powerful and enduring images in American history.  Like many artists and writers he supported the war effort by creating work inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt's January 1941 State of the Union address outlining the four basic human liberties: Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

"Freedom from Want"

"Freedom from Fear"

"Freedom of Speech"

"New Kids in the Neighborhood" (1967) was the third of Rockwell's civil rights pictures for Look Magazine.    In his illustration of suburban integration in Chicago's Park Forest community, Rockwell was secure in expressing his philosophy of tolerance.

As a student in the south during the 50's I remember this magazine cover and the effect it had on me.  Thank you, Mr. Rockwell.  You said it so well.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1963)

(Items in Italics from materials posted at the Museum)


  1. Yes, so immediately recognizable to ww of a certain age! When I was a small child in San Francisco, my father had a friend by the name of Jarvis Rockwell. Another son of Norman Rockwell, and also an artist. His art was very different than that of his father-abstract, mostly sculpture as I recall. His day job then was butcher at Marcel et Henri on the corner of Union and Hyde streets.

    1. Yes, Jarvis was a son of N.Rockwell and there is some of his art in the museum as well. It is very abstract.

  2. Many of my artist friends laugh when I say I like his work. But I do. He's a wonderful illustrator.

  3. I am sure his illustrations are technically perfect but that is not what draws me to them. It is 'the story' that he imparts that makes me smile. I know his world is unrealistic for many but he tells the 'American Ideal' without the gore; our societal goals without the ugly politics and the mutual respect we aspire to. Is it Pollyannaish? Of Course. But don't we have enough of the other stuff?

  4. But there are uneasy undertones in his work. We subscribed to the Post and I saw a lot of the covers. "Freedom from Want" has always bothered me. It's creepy. The awkward angle of Grandma's wrist, holding on to the turkey,is weak. The floating heads of the family, caused by heavy cropping, leer out at the viewer. And Grandpa, unassuming yet in control, presides over it all. It's positively claustrophobic. We've all been there at Thanksgiving! To my taste, there is an airless, too obviously "set up" quality to his work in spite of his great skill and liveliness as a painter and illustrator. Even as a kid I always wondered what was going on outside the frame of his work. What does he leave out? Somehow what he leaves out is implied. It is escapism, but reality creeps in anyway.
    Toni, Do you know about Carl Spitzweg? He was a painter of the everyday lives of provincial Germans. His work, unlike Rockwell's, was lightly satirical and lacking in the hints of unease in Rockwell's work. He was more painterly, and some of his paintings are absolutely beautiful.

  5. I did not know Spitzweg's work. I took a look and agree that his work is quite lovely and very interesting. I like that he doesn't tell the whole story but let's the viewer finish it for himself.