Rockwell: Pictures for the American People
Pola Rosen, Ed.D.
many votaries of Norman Rockwell’s work know that he lived and
drew the town and people of his beloved Stockbridge in the Berkshires,
few know that he was born in Manhattan and grew up in New Rochelle.
On the verdant knoll housing the Rockwell museum in Stockbridge,
are the sculptures by his son, Jarvis, who now lives in Rome.
Currently, there’s a wonderful audio tour at the Rockwell museum,
incorporating anecdotes about his life that expand the enjoyment
of the exhibit. Rockwell used to ride his bicycle 5 miles a day
around the town. Sometimes he would stop when he saw an interesting
face he needed for a painting and ask the townsperson to come
to his studio. A garbage collector once posed for a painting of
a religious figure and neighborhood boys posed for scenes of forbidden
fishing. The boys grew very restless maintaining their positions;
even the 50 cents an hour would not hold them until Rockwell began
clinking nickels every few minutes into cups that would later
be theirs. Soon each day, as Rockwell rode his bike, neighbors
would appear in interesting garb outside their homes, hoping he
would notice and choose them for his painting.
In 1916, Rockwell painted his first cover for The Saturday Evening
Post, a collaboration that would endure for 47 years.
Rockwell captured the spirit of small town American life and in
the process, captured the heart of Everyman. His paintings reflect
the emotions that are part of all of our lives: love of a grandfather
for a grandson, a young girl poised on the brink of womanhood,
three generations of a family sharing Thanksgiving dinner, parents
tenderly tucking their young children into bed, the town gossip
spreading rumors, the little boy running away from home.
While we associate Rockwell with prints made famous by his 322
covers for The Saturday Evening Post and sold in the shop at the
museum, his oeuvre was 70 oil paintings. Some of his limited edition
prints are available at the museum for between $1500 to about
$10,000. One of my favorites is Main Street. When you go for lunch
or dinner at the tradition-filled Red Lion Inn, you are walking
in Rockwell’s footsteps for there, Main Street lies before you,
just as it was in the 50s when Rockwell painted it.
For Education Update readers, it is interesting to note that Rockwell
was married to two schoolteachers. Mary, the mother of his three
sons, appears in many of his paintings.
In 1977, Rockwell received the nation’s highest civilian honor,
the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for his “vivid and affectionate
portraits of our country.”
Rockwell lives on in his work, which is touring the entire country.
It comes to the Guggenheim Museum in New York on November 16,
2001 through March 3, 2001. If you want to take a lovely trip
out to the countryside, the exhibit will be in Stockbridge, Massachusetts
until October 8, 2001.
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