Norman Rockwell is considered to be “America’s favorite illustrator.” His poignant paintings served as a mirror of life into 20th century America, depicting genre scenes of everyday occurrences as well as important social and political events. His iconic works were so highly regarded that they graced the cover of The Saturday Evening Post for more than four decades.
All of the artist’s magazine covers will be brought together for the exhibition, “Norman Rockwell’s 323 Saturday Evening Post Covers,” which will be on display at the Pauly Friedman Art Gallery at Misericordia University from Jan. 14 to Feb. 28. The collection, presented by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., is comprised of original tear sheets of the covers, including “Girl in the Mirror,” “The Marriage License,” “The Runaway,” and “No Swimming.” The exhibit will also feature three original Rockwell paintings from a private collection, including portraits of President and Mrs. Richard Nixon and U.S. Senator and Mrs. George McGovern.
Thomas C. Daly, curator of education at the Rockwell Museum, will offer two lectures, entitled “Norman Rockwell and the 20th Century.” Daly is a nationally renowned expert on the life and works of Rockwell, and is well versed in the intricate details of the pieces on exhibit, including the names of the models and the locations that inspired the setting of each cover illustration. The lectures are open free to the public, and will be held on Thursday, Jan. 24 from 2:30-3:30 p.m. and 6:30-7:30 p.m., in Lemmond Theater at Walsh Hall. A reception will follow the second lecture at 7:30 p.m. in the Pauly Friedman Art Gallery.
In addition, the 12-minute film, “American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell,” will be available for viewing in the gallery throughout the scheduled exhibition.
The exhibition is sponsored by an anonymous friend of Misericordia University and the arts. W.D. Jenkins Financial Consulting Group - Wells Fargo Advisors, Plains, Pa., is the sponsor for the lectures and reception.
The Saturday Evening Post was widely recognized as the most popular magazine of the early 20th century. Rockwell referred to it as the “greatest show window in America,” and his association with the publication began in 1916 and ended in 1963, yielding 321 original paintings that became covers and numerous illustrations for stories and essays published inside the magazine. Two of the 321 were reproduced as covers a second time, bringing the number of Rockwell covers in the collection to 323.
“Norman Rockwell has become an American icon for all generations – young and old – and that is what makes this exhibit so popular,” says Daly, who has been affiliated with the museum for 15 years. “What I enjoy most about this exhibit is that it gives everyone a chance to make their own personal connection with Rockwell’s work. Even if they weren’t alive when the cover appeared, they see themselves in a situation, remember a moment in time, or relate to the humor in everyday life that he conveyed … so no matter their age, there is something in the collection that they can relate to.
“We have all seen the covers individually, yet it isn’t until you see them in their entirety, that you realize the full extent of his prolific talent,” Daly added. “Norman Rockwell did an average of seven covers a year, and this exhibit of 323 covers represents less than 10 percent of his total body of work – an amazing 4,000 pieces in all.”
Born in New York City in 1894, Rockwell wanted to be an artist from a young age. At 14, he enrolled in art classes at the New York School of Art and two years later, left high school to study art at the National Academy of Design. He soon transferred to the Art Students League, where he studied with well-known art instructors 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 career.
He painted his first commission of four Christmas cards before his 16th birthday. While still in his teens, he was hired as art director of Boys’ Life, the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America, the start of a successful freelance career illustrating for young people’s publications.
At age 21, Rockwell’s family moved to New Rochelle, N.Y., a community whose residents included famous illustrators J.C. and Frank Leyendecker and Howard Chandler Christy. He set up a studio with cartoonist Clyde Forsythe and produced works for Life, Literary Digest and Country Gentlemen magazines. At age 22, Rockwell painted his first cover for The Saturday Evening Post.
Over the next 20 years, Rockwell married, divorced and was married a second time. The couple had three children and moved to Vermont in 1939, a time when his work began, more consistently, to reflect small-town American life.
Inspired by an address to Congress in 1941 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Rockwell painted the Four Freedoms paintings. The four, “Freedom of Speech,” “Freedom to Worship,” “Freedom from Want,” and “Freedom from Fear,” were reproduced in consecutive issues of The Post with essays by contemporary writers and were enormously popular. The works toured the United States in an exhibition sponsored by The Post and the U.S. Treasury Department to help promote the sale of war bonds. The project raised more than $130 million for the war effort.
A fire that same year in Rockwell’s Vermont studio destroyed numerous paintings and his collection of historical costumes and props.
The family moved to Stockbridge, Mass., in 1953. His wife, Mary Barstow Rockwell, died unexpected six years later. In collaboration with his son Thomas, Rockwell published his autobiography, “My Adventures as an Illustrator,” in 1960. The Post carried excerpts from the best-selling book in eight consecutive issues with Rockwell’s “Triple Self-Portrait” on the cover of the first issue.
In 1961, Rockwell married again and two years later ended his association with The Post and began to work for Look magazine. During his 10-year association with Look, his illustrations depicted some of his deepest concerns and interests including civil rights, America’s war on poverty and the exploration of space.
In 1973, he established a trust to preserve his artistic legacy and placed his works in the custodianship of the Old Corner House Stockbridge Historical Society, which later became the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge.
Rockwell was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1977 for his “vivid and affectionate portraits of our country.” He died at his home in Stockbridge one year later, at the age of 84.
The exhibit is open free to the public. The Pauly Friedman Art Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday; and Saturday and Sunday, 1-5 p.m. For more information about the Pauly Friedman Art Gallery and upcoming exhibits, visit www.misericordia.edu/art or call 570.674.6250.