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Mr. Burgher's Art Facts

Norman Rockwell

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Norman Rockwell : Feb.3,1894-Nov.8,1978...United States

"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

In my mind, one of the sadder stories of an artist is the story of the truly great artist, illustrator, and commercial artist; Norman Percevel Rockwell. From the very beginning, living in New York, Rockwell had a skill and love for art. He particularly enjoyed drawing warships. In high school, he took art classes at the Chase School of Fine and Applied Art in New York. He withdrew from his public school to attend the National Academy of Design his sophomore year and then transferring to the Art Students League the following year under the guidance of Thomas Fogarty and George Bridgman. His first job was illustrating for a children’s book series called “Tell Me Why Stories,” and soon became the art director for the Boy Scouts of America’s magazine, “Boys’ Life.” He worked with the Boy Scouts for fifty years.

With some successes, Rockwell moved to a studio New Rochelle, New York. He was illustrating in several magazines including “Life,” “Literary Digest,” “County Gentleman,” and at the age of twenty-two he sold his first cover to the most prestigious magazine of that time, "The Saturday Evening Post," that was published on May 20, 1916. He was married to teacher, Irene O’Connor, but they divorced after twelve years of marriage. He would married three women, and all were three were teachers.

America loved Rockwell’s covers for "The Saturday Evening Post." Over his career, he created 322 covers for them. Most saw his covers as a portrayal the All-American culture. That is true if you live in an all white town. He never painted anyone but whites for the covers. Why? Was he racist? Simply put, no, he was not at all a racist. The fact is that Rockwell was given direct comments on this by his editor that wanted “No blacks. Only show white America." People generally do what their bosses tell them because they want to keep their job. He was a respected artist, but had no pull or power to do anything more than draw. If he did draw blacks, they wouldn’t buy the art and he be out money. It’s that simple. By the start if World War I, he was making forty thousand dollars a year. He made no less than that through the Great Depression. Unlike most people, he prospered in the 1930s. The studio was moved to Arlington, Vermont, where he lived with his new wife Mary Barstow and eventually, their three sons. In 1953 the family moved again to Stockbridge, Massachusetts because of the declining health of Mary. She passed away in 1960 and Norman remarried Molly Punderson the next year. All the while creating his art for millions to enjoy.

One of Rockwell’s most famous and reproduced covers for "The Saturday Evening Post" was on the cover of the February 13, 1960 issue. This oil painting was called Triple Self-Portrait. Strangely, he didn’t see himself as an “Artist,” but a commercial illustrator. He wanted to be a real artist like those whose self-portraits are seen at the to of his easel: Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent van Gogh. He wanted respect as an artist, not someone whose art was as disposable as a magazine cover. On a trip later in his life he went to see Rembrandt’s studio. He was allowed to go privately and spent some time alone in the studio and as he sat there he said out loud, “Rembrandt, I have always loved and admired your painting…So, what do you think of me?“ No answer was replied. “I cannot convince myself that a painting is good unless it is popular.” In this portrait we see the unveiled (by his glasses) Rockwell working on a pencil drawing with a paintbrush. After forty-seven years, he left the magazine to work for "Look" magazine. At his new publication, he was allowed to express his views that he wanted the public to see, his strong feelings for civil rights and the war on poverty. “For forty-seven years, I portrayed the best of all possible worlds – grandfathers, puppy dogs – things like that. That kind of stuff is dead now, and I think it’s about time.”

Triple Self Portrait 
1960. Oil on Canvas. The Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Mass., USA.

One of Rockwell’s most powerful covers for “Look” was The Problem We All Live With. This work shows little, six-year old Ruby Bridges going to the first day of school at the William Frantz Public School in New Orleans, Louisiana with her U.S. Marshal escort. People did not want her, or any blacks, to attend the school. Her new shoes and dress for the first day of school, and people throwing tomatoes at her like she was some sort of enemy. What a way to start first grade. At the school she was taught on her own floor of the school in a class of one, just her with her teacher, Mrs. Henry. Rockewll was one who always wanted kids to be kids and enjoyed capturing that in his art. It must have truely saddened him that a child had to go throught such a needless event of trama. "I'll tell you one thing for sure. I never found anything so great about old age that was worth the things I had to give up as a child to get here."

The Problem We All Live With 
1964. Oil on Canvas. The Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Mass., USA.

It is sad to me that Rockwell did not see his influence on art and did not see the value of his work. Rockwell had protected his art in an established trust in 1972. His art went on display on what is now known as the Norman Rockwell Museum.


Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063