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American Painter Norman Rockwell

If anyone wanted to see America and life in America from the everyday and nostalgic side then all they had to do was to look at one of Norman Rockwell’s paintings. All of his artwork captures the delight of small-town America and a life that you looked at in the paintings and would bring smiles

Early Years 

At the age of 14, Rockwell began taking art classes at the New York School of Art. He joined the Art Students League which was an organization with such icons as Georgia O’Keefe and Maurice Sendak as alumni. He received his first commission before turning 16 with a set of four Christmas cards.

His first big assignment came in 1912 when at 18 Rockwell was hired to paint illustrations for the children’s book “Tell Me Why: Stories About Mother Nature” by Charles H. Caudy. The success of his work here got him a job as a staff artist and later as art director for the magazine Boys’ Life.

Biggest Inspiration

 

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Rockwell’s biggest inspiration was painter Howard Pyle who has been referred to as “the father of American magazine illustration”. He was impressed by Pyle’s illustrations and due to the inspiration, they brought him Rockwell later became a world-famous magazine cover artist. He loved the swashbuckling pirates that Pyle drew and included one of them in his painting Family Tree in 1959.

Navy Years

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When the U.S. entered WW I Rockwell was ready to sign up and join the Navy. Unfortunately, he was rejected due to being underweight. He gained the required weight by going on a diet of bananas and donuts  Rockwell’s first assignment was painting insignias on airplanes at an Irish base. After his ship was diverted to South Carolina he was recruited as an illustrator for Afloat and Ashore, the Charleston Naval Yard official periodical.

The Saturday Evening Post

 Rockwell’s most celebrated work was with The Saturday Evening Post were he painted 323 covers. His first cover appeared on May 29, 1916, and his last in 1963.

Four Freedoms Series

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On January 6, 1941, the 32nd President of the U.S. Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave a historic State of the Union address. He informed the world that everyone deserved to enjoy the freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. These four freedoms struck a chord with Rockwell and inspired him to create four paintings that portrayed these ideals. His Four Freedom Series is one of his best-known projects. It was published in The Saturday Evening Post and the government sent the originals on a tour which were viewed by 1.1 million people. Rockwell could be proud that his four paintings helped Uncle Sam raise nearly $133 million worth of war bonds.

The Boy Scouts of America

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Another honor bestowed upon Rockwell was in 1939 when the Boy Scouts of America officials gave him a Silver Buffalo which is the organizations highest award at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan before an audience of 3,000. He had painted many heroic boy scouts and his professional relationship with the Boy Scouts lasted for 64 years finishing his last BSA commissioned illustration The Spirit of ’76 at the age of 86.

Struggle with Depression 

Unfortunately, Rockwell had bouts of deep depression. It was a time when his second wife had problems with alcohol addiction and the family relocated from Arlington, Vermont to Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, his wife got intensive therapy and her psychoanalyst was also able to help Rockwell.

Presidential Medal of Freedom 

Rockwell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 given to him by the 38th President of the U.S. Gerald Ford. The President’s words of praise were “artist, illustrator, and author [whose] vivid and affectionate portraits of our country and ourselves have become a beloved part of the American tradition.”

The Golden Rule

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One of Rockwell’s most poignant paintings The Golden Rule which depicts an international and multi-racial crowd standing together and behind them the words “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. At the 40th anniversary celebration of the United Nations, the then First Lady Nancy Reagan presented them at their Manhattan headquarters with a large mosaic version of Rockwell’s The Golden Rule. Now visitors, delegates, and diplomats admire it.

Painting in the White House

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Rockwell created The Problem We All Live With for Look magazine in 1963. The main subject was Ruby Bridges who was 6 years old. She was escorted by U.S. Marshalls on November 14, 1960, when she began attending a newly segregated elementary school in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1975 this painting became the first to be bought by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. It was also put on display in the West Wing hallway of the White House between June and October of 2011. It was viewed there by Bridges herself with the 44th U.S. President Barack Obama by her side.

Big Rockwell Fans 

Two of Rockwell’s biggest fans Steven Spielberg and George Lucas own impressive collections of authentic Rockwell illustrations. These two directors lent more than 50 Rockwell paintings and sketches to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in July of 2010 as part of a temporary exhibit – “Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg,” The exhibit ran until January 2011.

A Painting Sold for Millions

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Rockwell’s painting Saying Grace depicting a boy and an older woman in prayer at a public restaurant which was created for The Saturday Evening Post in 1951 was sold at auction in December 2013 for $46 million. Another painting that brought in $15 million in 2006 was Breaking Home Ties.

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Official State Artist of Massachusetts

Rockwell spent a great part of his life in the Berkshires in Massachusetts and the Bay State bestowed the honor posthumously upon him as the Official State Artist of Massachusetts in 2008.

Reenactment of a Rockwell Scene

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Every holiday season the town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts reenacts an iconic Rockwell scene. The artist referred to his hometown as “the best of America, the best of New England”. So every year on the first Sunday in December the town stages a reenactment of his painting Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas (Home for Christmas). The illustration is brought to life with antique cars and other authentic things. The best thing is that most of the buildings still look like they did in Rockwell’s time.

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