The ‘Post’ in question was ‘The Saturday Evening Post’ and the statement was made by the prolific, American illustrator who, between 1916 and 1963, produced 323 covers for the weekly magazine. Some of Norman Rockwell’s covers are very well known and are used today on posters, postcards and greetings cards throughout the world. Rockwell was born in New York City in 1894 and died in Stockbridge, MA in 1978. One’s first impression is that his paintings depict cosy, inter-war-years, small town American home life. In fact this is far from the case. He covered a huge range of topics and he used local people as models and meticulously planned each picture he created.
On Saturday 15 September we made a visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge, MA. We thought we’d maybe spend an hour or so there but three hours later we decided to leave and I still had not seen everything that the Museum had to offer, including the current special exhibition ‘Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered’.
I think we’d expected a Disneyfied exhibit and we’d have sentimental America overload. Far from it. This was an excellent presentation of the work of one of America’s best-known illustrators.
All 323 covers are on display in publication order on the walls of the basement gallery. In the same room is a video loop about Rockwell’s life and painting narrated by his son Tom Rockwell. Also in the basement is a Library and Archive.
“composed primarily of business, personal, and fan correspondence, together with reference material. Of particular note is a collection of several thousand black-and-white photographs of models and scenes used by the illustrator in the development of his work.” [from the NRM website]
The NRM Gift Shop
For nearly fifty years, millions of Americans brought Norman Rockwell’s art into their homes, enjoying the artist’s Saturday Evening Post covers while seated in their favorite chairs, surrounded by their belongings in the company of their families. This intimate connection with Rockwell’s art made his images a part of the fabric of American lives.
On the ground floor of the Museum are the main galleries which include his paintings of the Four Freedoms or Four Essential Human Freedoms (of speech, of worship, from want, from fear). The theme was derived from the 1941 State of the Union Address by President Roosevelt.
Also, in pride of place, and this was the painting about which my tour guide spoke, was Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas. Later I found the Main Street almost impossible to photograph in September (the result is below). Each year there’s a programme of events in the town based around a recreation of this painting. This year it’s 30 November, 1 and 2 December.
Norman Rockwell in his studio with the painting Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas
When we’d exhausted the Museum itself (or rather it had exhausted us!) and spent time in the well-stocked Gift Shop we took the short walk to Rockwell’s Studio.
The Museum (opened in 1993) is located in lovely extensive grounds (36 acres) a few miles outside the small town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts – there’s plenty of parking and green spaces. The Studio itself was moved to the grounds in 1986 and is fitted out now as it might have been in October 1960 with his equipment, books, inspirations.
After visiting the Museum, we parked up in Stockbridge and took a walk around the town. When I walked into the Stockbridge General Store I suddenly remembered that I had watched a programme on TV back in December called “America on a Plate : The story of the Diner” in which Stephen Smith visits various diners throughout America and reflects on their connections with popular culture. At one point he visited Stockbridge and set up one of the Rockwell covers – The Runaway – using the original models for the police officer and the runaway boy. I realised that I was in the diner where this had taken place. The programme in full is not currently available via iPlayer but I found two YouTube recordings of the programme. The Norman Rockwell part begins in Part One 12.22 minutes in and continues through the beginning of Part Two.