The Artist Norman Rockwell

A beloved artist, Norman Rockwell, captured American culture in many forms in the 20th century. These works were reproduced on magazine covers, greeting cards, calendars, and prints, to name a few. Rockwell was born on February 3, 1894, in New York City. In high school, he studied art at the New York School of Art. He received the first commission as an artist at age 15 for Christmas cards. Before reaching age 20, Rockwell had become the art director for “Boys’ Life,” the magazine of the Boy Scouts of America. In 1910, Rockwell studied at the National Academy of Design. Soon he left the Academy to join the Art Students League. There he learned under Thomas Fogarty and George Bridgman. With the help of Fogarty, Rockwell learned skills for commercial art. Under Bridgman, Rockwell learned technical skills.

Rockwell’s portfolio of more than 4,000 pictures included oils, photographs, magazine covers, and other commercial art. At the age of 21, the Rockwell clan moved to New Rochelle. With the cartoonist Clyde Forsythe, young Rockwell established a studio, developing illustrations for magazines (i.e. “Life” and “Country Gentleman”). The first commission for “The Saturday Evening Post” was completed in 1916. Rockwell would produce 321 covers in all for the “Post.” Many covers were Christmas images. In “Santa at the Globe” (1926), Rockwell captures a jolly, intelligent old man with a white beard and a red and white suit. Like other works, this picture has a happy theme and a composition that can only be described as calm.

Rockwell had three wives. From 1916 to 1930, he was married to Irene O´Connor. In 1930, Mary Barstow became his second wife and gave him his sons – Jarvis, Thomas, and Peter. With the family move to Arlington, Vermont, in 1939, the illustrator switched to the depiction of small town America.

The subjects of Rockwell’s work were many, including ordinary life, patriotism, sports, holiday seasons, home and family, and the workplace. In “The Runaway” (1958), Rockwell captures a little boy seated next to a policeman at a soda fountain. Like other works, “Runaway” reflected a personal story. In “Abraham Lincoln Delivering the Gettysburg Address,” Rockwell offers a realistic figure of the sixteenth President, a towering Honest Abe.

Four pictures called the “Four Freedoms,” and inspired by President Theodore Roosevelt, were published consecutively in the “Post” in 1943. These pictures traveled in a show funded by the “Post” and the U.S. Treasury. All in all, Rockwell brought in over $130 million in American war bonds. Perhaps the 1943 burning of his studio, including many props and paintings, diminished his personal contribution to the U.S. war effort.

Ten years later, Rockwell and his family settled in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In 1959, Mary Rockwell died suddenly. In 1960, Rockwell and his son Thomas published his autobiography. Excerpts appeared in eight back-to-back issues of the “Post.” He married his third wife, Molly, in 1961.

In the final stage of his career, Rockwell worked ten years for “Look” magazine. From the 1960s to the 1980s, Rockwell themes included poverty, civil rights, and space exploration. After a long, productive life, Rockwell died in 1978. He left his work trusted to the Old Corner House Stockbridge Historical Society (now the Norman Rockwell Museum.