Norman Perceval Rockwell is most famous for his cover illustrations he created for The Saturday Evening Post. Producing more than 4,000 original works in his lifetime, this prolific artist masterfully idealized portrayals of American life. Although born to the daughter of an artist Norman’s artistic skills may also be credited to his father, a textile manager whose talent gave him the ability to create perfect copies of magazine pictures. Norman first learned to draw from his father using those same magazines.
Young Norman was frequently sad and longed to be an athlete like his older brother Jarvis Jr. Enamored by characters in Charles Dickens novels, Norman escaped his daily life by imagining himself as a figure in the stories.
Born in New York, City, Norman felt urban life was too violent and depressing. When his family moved to Mamaroneck, New York he thrived in its rural setting where the local boys found him very likable and friendly. To make money this industrious youth mowed lawns, delivered mail and even gave art lessons. Ethel Barrymore, a famous starlet of the time was one of his students.
After taking a few classes at the Chase school of art and the National academy of design, he eventually found his niche at the Art Students League. He never graduated high school. In art school, Norman appreciated such artists as Rembrandt, Bruegel, and Vermeer. But illustrating is what caught his interest. His favorite illustrators were Howard Pile and J.C. Leyendecker. Hard work and diligence paid off when Norman received his first professional assignment at the young age of 18. His talent and strong work ethic landed him more jobs than he could handle but his penchant for hard work won out. In no time he was named editor for Boy’s Life magazine where he provided over 400 illustrations for the next six years.
Concerned that he would be labeled a children’s illustrator only, Norman looked for new challenges. He traveled to Pennsylvania hoping to find work at the Saturday Evening Post. Although he showed up unannounced the editor was so impressed with Norman’s work, he purchased two paintings on the spot. This first of which became the magazine cover in May of 1916.
After marrying school teacher Irene O’Conner, the young couple moved to New Rochelle, New York, but never had children. For extra money, Norman took some advertising jobs. He found it very hard to turn down work. His workaholic tendencies became a detriment to his health and marriage. Always a perfectionist, Norman rarely felt at peace. After seven years of marriage Irene asked Norman for a divorce. He was single only for a short time and quickly married another school teacher, Mary Rhodes.
After marrying Mary, Norman took a job that promised to establish him a serious artist; he was asked to illustrate Mark Twain’s, the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The books were a commercial success. Norman felt his life was finally going someplace. So busy was he that Norman was forced to work seven days a week to keep up with the work orders. He did have time to make a family however; he and Mary produced three sons.
When World War II began Norman wanted to create a character in which everyone could relate; he chose the name Willie Gillis for his World War II character. He also designed the iconic character, Rosy the Riveter. Although Norman strived to keep politics out of his work, he did feel compelled to do one political project, a four-piece ensemble entitled Four Freedoms. It generated more than 133 million dollars in war bond funds.
His style changed over the years. His paintings became more realistic and less like a comic strip. He felt his ultimate goal was to tell a story. After the death of his second wife, he married again to an ex-schoolteacher, Mary Punderson. Norman’s last cover for the Evening Post came out in 1963 when the Post felt that the paper needed a more modern look.
Look magazine was his next and final big job. Norman’s work began to take on more and more of a political flavor. Amongst his notable paintings during this period were The Problem We All Deal With, and Southern Justice. As Norman aged, he began to reflect on his life; he finally realized he was a well-respected artist.
Some modern critics dismiss Rockwell’s work and do not consider him to be a “serious” painter, but categorize him as a mere “illustrator.” This moniker didn’t insult Norman, however. It was a designation he used to call himself.
Rockwell died in 1978. He has been gone a long time, 39 years to be exact. But even with so much time passed people still relate to his work. His idealistic way of commemorating seasons long gone are precious and sweet ideals many cling to as a reminder of simpler days gone by.
*The Library of Congress created this biography film on Rockwell and his painting of Rosie the Riveter. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04VNBM1PqR8
*Norman Rockwell worked hard to tell a story with each of his paintings. Create your own expanded magazine cover using Rockwell’s images to continue the story he started. http://www.libertyhillhouse.com/2016/02/01/norman-rockwell-multimedia-project/
*Take a virtual tour of Norman Rockwell’s studio in this link: http://www.nrm.org/studio/index.html
*Rockwell’s fans loved to point out when he made mistakes in his magazine covers. He enjoyed these interactions and for several years created April Fools Day Covers filled with mistakes for them to discover. Visit this site to see some of the covers and find the mistakes yourself! http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2014/04/01/art-entertainment/beyond-the-canvas-rockwells-april-fools-brings-laughter-in-a-serious-time.html