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Norman Perceval Rockwell

Birthdate:
Birthplace: New York, NY, USA
Death: Died in Stockbridge, MA, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of Jarvis Waring Rockwell, Sr and Anne "Nancy" Rockwell
Husband of Mary Rhodes Barstow and Mary Leete Plunderson
Ex-husband of Irene O'Connor
Father of <private> Rockwell; Peter B Rockwell and Jarvis Waring Rockwell
Brother of Jarvis Waring Rockwell, Jr.

Occupation: Painter, Artist, American Illustrator
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Norman Perceval Rockwell

America’s most beloved illustrator of the twentieth century, Norman Rockwell is renowned for his depictions of daily life in small town and rural America—a world populated by Boy Scouts, mothers, and children, grandpas and grandmas. Indeed, Rockwell’s aesthetic goals revolved around his desire to create an ideal America as expressed in his best-selling autobiography, "My Adventures as an Illustrator "(1960): "I paint life as I would like it to be."

The second child of Jarvis Waring Rockwell and his wife Nancy, Norman Perceval Rockwell was born in New York City, in a decrepit brownstone on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. As a young child, he enjoyed idyllic summers in the country—primarily New Jersey and upstate New York--an experience that remained with him for the remainder of his life and one that had a profound impact on his later choice of iconography.

The Rockwell family remained in Manhattan until 1903, when they moved to Mamaroneck, a suburban town in Westchester County, where they resided in a succession of boarding houses. It was there, while attending high school, that Rockwell decided to pursue a career as an illustrator.

In 1908, he began commuting to New York to study at the Chase School of Fine and Applied Art, and at the age of fifteen he quit high school to enroll in classes at the National Academy of Design. However, finding the Academy’s curriculum geared towards training the fine artist rather than the illustrator, he left a year later and enrolled at the Art Students League, studying anatomy under George Bridgman and illustration with Thomas Fogarty. In addition to honing his skills in drawing and painting the figure, Rockwell was introduced to the illustration work of Howard Pyle, whose emphasis on historical themes, as well as his penchant for detail and accuracy, exerted a profound influence on the young artist.

In 1911, Rockwell illustrated his first book, "Tell-Me-Why Stories" about Mother Nature by C.H. Claudy (published 1912). Two years later he contributed the first of many illustrations to "Boys Life," going on to become art director of that magazine soon after. Commissions for other children’s periodicals, among them "St. Nicholas," "Youth’s Companion" and "American Boy," soon followed.

In 1915, Rockwell moved with his family to New Rochelle, New York, an artists’ colony and home to many of America’s finest illustrators, including Howard Chandler Christy and Charles Dana Gibson. Sharing sculptor Frederic Remington’s old studio with the cartoonist Clyde Forsythe, he continued to study the work of older illustrators such as Pyle while painting crisply painted renditions of fresh-faced kids and dogs.

A turning point in Rockwell’s career occurred a year later when he sold five cover illustrations to George Horace Lorimer, editor of the "Saturday Evening Post. " For the next four decades, Rockwell’s name would become synonymous with the "Post." Indeed, during that period he produced 322 covers for the magazine, the most acclaimed of which was his Thanksgiving "Saying Grace" illustration, which appeared in the 24 November 1951 issue. His superbly crafted, topical, and ofttimes witty portrayals of everyday American types propelled him into the public spotlight and earned him a national reputation.

Rockwell served in the navy during 1917-18, spending much of his time painting official portraits while doing illustration work for the "Post" and magazines such as "Literary Digest" and "Popular Science." He continued his prolific activity until 1923, when he went to Paris to try his hand at modern art.

He enrolled briefly at the Académie Colarossi and spent much of his time studying the work of vanguard painters such as Picasso and Matisse. Although he eventually resumed the style of representational realism that contributed to his immense popularity, Rockwell continued to take an interest in contemporary art throughout his career. He travelled to Europe again in 1927, 1932 and 1938, familiarizing himself with the latest developments in the art world. To be sure, he often incorporated modern spatial devices into his work and even produced his own versions of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings around 1962.

By the 1920s, Rockwell had achieved considerable success in his field. He joined a country club, learned to ride horses, and fraternized with a coterie of fashionable society types that included author F. Scott Fitzgerald. He moved into the Hotel des Artistes on Central Park West in 1929, but after suffering a breakdown shortly thereafter, he returned to New Rochelle, settling into a stylish Colonial Revival House.

In addition to resuming his illustration work, he executed major book commissions that included a new edition of Tom Sawyer and a biography of Louisa May Alcott. He also painted the occasional mural including "The Land of Enchantment" (1934) for the New Rochelle Public Library and "Yankee Doodle" (1937) for the Nassau Inn in Princeton, New Jersey. He also designed Christmas cards as well as a number of posters for the motion-picture industry, the War Department and consumer products such as Jell-O.

Rockwell moved to Arlington, Vermont in 1939. He remained in Vermont until 1953, when he settled in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, his home for the remainder of his life. During the final phase of his career, Rockwell took his art in a new direction. Moving away from the nostalgic subjects of the past, he depicted contemporary people and events for "Look" magazine, often exploring issues relating to politics, school integration, racism and America’s space program.

Despite his remarkable success and the enormous appeal of his work, Rockwell attracted little attention from art historians during his day. In 1946, Arthur L. Guptill published his "Norman Rockwell Illustrator," the first monograph on the artist and one that has since become a classic. Yet until only recently, there have been few exhibitions and little scholarly analysis of Rockwell’s work, many viewing him as an old-fashioned realist and his art as overly sentimental.

However, in the wake of his death, scholars have begun to re-assess Rockwell’s contribution, linking him to a venerable tradition of genre painting that harks back to the Old Masters. Important exhibitions have been mounted at the Norman Rockwell Museum, which opened in Stockbridge in 1969 (and moved to its current location in 1993), and at other major institutions, notably the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, which organized the exhibition "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People," in 1999.

The most comprehensive collection of his work can be found at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.

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Normal Rockwell was Robert Hibbard's 7th Great Grandson -------------------- February 3, 1894 marked the birth of one of America’s most beloved artists, Norman Percevel Rockwell. Norman Rockwell was born in his parent’s Upper West Side Manhattan apartment.

The second son of businessman Jarvis Waring and Ann Mary (Hill) Rockwell, young Norman showed talent from the beginning. In fact, Rockwell remembered his first sketches as drawings of warships from the Spanish-American war. Jarvis Waring enjoyed reading various literary masterpieces aloud to his family, especially the works of classic author Charles Dickens. Young Norman would attentively listen as he sketched the characters while his father read the story aloud.

Creative talent is a hard thing to repress; some say that art “flows” out of artists. Rockwell was no different. During his high school years, he studied at the Chase School of Fine and Applied Art, every Saturday and most Wednesdays. Rockwell’s love for art was steadily growing at this point and, during his sophomore year, he left high school to attend the National Academy of Design. He described the school as “stiff and scholarly,” opting to transfer to the Art Students League in 1910.

Rockwell’s years at the Art Students League proved fruitful for the young painter/illustrator. At the tender age of sixteen, and still a student at the Art Students League, he painted his first commission of four Christmas cards. The following year he accepted his first real job as an artist illustrating the “Tell me Why Stories,” a series of children’s books. Shortly after that he was hired as the art director of “Boys’ Life” magazine, the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America. Rockwell continued his work with the Scouts, illustrating the official Boy Scout calendar for fifty years.

Following his success with the “Tell Me Why Series,” Rockwell moved to New Rochelle, New York and set up a studio with cartoonist Clyde Forsythe. He began freelancing his services to magazines such as “Life,” “Literary Digest” and “County Gentleman.” As his portfolio grew, so did his confidence in his artwork. In 1916 the 22 year-old Rockwell mustered up some courage and sold his first cover to "The Saturday Evening Post," perhaps the most prestigious magazine of that era. The picture was of an uncomfortable, young boy wearing a bowler hat, dressed somewhat maturely for his age and diligently pushing a baby carriage past a group of sneering boys in baseball uniforms. The artwork, entitled “Mother’s Day Off,” ran on the cover of the May 20, 1916 issue; that same year he married his first wife, teacher Irene O’Connor. Their marriage ended in 1928.

Americans were extremely receptive to Rockwell’s "Saturday Evening Post" covers. In fact, Rockwell went on to create 321 covers for the Post, each portraying typical American life and values. His covers were so successful that when his art appeared on the cover, 50,000 – 75,000 additional copies of the Saturday Evening Post sold at newsstands. "The Saturday Evening Post" covers eventually became his greatest legacy. For an artist in the first half of the 20th century, Rockwell did extremely well. By the onset of World War I, he was making $40,000 per year. Remarkably his salary never went below that point, even during the Great Depression.

The 1930s proved to be an amazing decade for Rockwell. In 1930 he married Mary Barstow. The couple moved to Arlington, Vermont and had three sons together: Jarvis, Thomas and Peter. In the mid-1930s Rockwell was approached to illustrate new editions of the Mark Twain classics “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer.” Always taking his work to the next level, Rockwell traveled to Hannibal, Missouri, the setting for most of Twain’s legendary novels, to depict more realistic illustrations for Twain’s fictional adventures. While there he created sketches of the city and brought home authentic regional costumes for models to wear while he painted his illustrations.

Through the years, Rockwell’s renditions of Americana appeared all over the world. During World War II he painted his widely-loved series the “Four Freedoms” as his personal contribution to the war effort. The patriotic paintings symbolized the war aims President Roosevelt set forth. The “Four Freedoms” were reproduced in four consecutive issues of “The Saturday Evening Post” alongside essays by contemporary American writers. “Freedom of Speech,” “Freedom to Worship,” “Freedom from Want” and “Freedom from Fear” were so successful that the works toured in an exhibition that raised $139.9 million for the war effort through the sales of war bonds.

In 1953 the Rockwell family relocated to Stockbridge, Massachusetts where Mary was treated at the Austen Riggs Center for her declining health. Six years after the move, Mary died unexpectedly. In 1960 Rockwell, with the help of his son Thomas, published his autobiography “My Adventures as an Illustrator.” The book proved to be a success, with excerpts carried in eight consecutive “Saturday Evening Post” issues. In 1961 Rockwell married Mary L. “Molly” Punderson and continued to live in Stockbridge and create his now nostalgic masterpieces.

In 1963, after 47 years at "The Saturday Evening Post," Rockwell parted ways with the magazine. He went to work for "Look" magazine almost immediately. There he was able to express his deepest concerns and interests, such as civil rights and the war on poverty.

Some of Rockwell’s most powerful creations came out of his years with "Look." One such piece was inspired by the unjust murders of three civil rights workers near Philadelphia, Mississippi. The painting, “Southern Justice,” was done in 1965 and depicts the horror endured by three young men, two white and one black, who had come to Mississippi in the fight for equality. One man is seen lying dead in the foreground; the next is standing in the glow of the attacker’s torch while defending the third man, who appears near death. Another, entitled “The Problem We All Live With” depicts a young black girl in a white dress being escorted to school by U.S. Marshals. Of his gripping and powerful illustrations for "Look," Rockwell wrote: “For 47 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.”

Bernard Dannenberg Galleries of New York City organized a retrospective show of Rockwell’s work in 1971. The artist went on to establish a trust to protect his personal collection of paintings in 1972. He placed his works in the Old Corner House Stockbridge Historical Society, which later became the Norman Rockwell Museum in a dedication ceremony on February 3, 1994, the 100th anniversary of Rockwell’s birth.

July 1976 brought Rockwell’s last published work, the cover of “American Artist.” He painted himself draping a “Happy Birthday” banner on the Liberty Bell in observance of the Fourth of July and the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. In 1977 President Gerald R. Ford presented Rockwell with the country's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom . The award was given for Rockwell’s “vivid and affectionate portraits of our country.”

On November 8, 1978 Norman Rockwell died in his Stockbridge home at the age of 84, leaving an unfinished painting on his easel. His now nostalgic paintings and illustrations continue to live on in American history, depicting decades of pleasantry and pain. A second edition of his autobiography was published in 1988, with new material from Tom Rockwell, covering the final 20 years of his father’s life. Norman Rockwell's ability to relate to the values and events of an evolving society made him a hero, a visionary and a friend, not only to Americans but also to individuals all over the globe. In his own words, "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 Percevel Rockwell (February 3, 1894 – November 8, 1978) was a 20th century American painter. His works enjoy a broad popular appeal in the United States, where Rockwell is most famous for the cover illustrations of everyday life scenarios he created for The Saturday Evening Post magazine over more than four decades. Among the best-known of Rockwell's works are Rosie the Riveter (although his Rosie was reproduced less than others of the day), Saying Grace (1951), and the Four Freedoms series.

-------------------- Norman Percevel Rockwell was born on February 3, 1894, the second son of Nancy and Waring Rockwell. He and his brother Jarvis lived in New York City until Norman was 9 years old at which point they moved to the suburban commuter town of Mamaroneck. Norman left high school early to return to New York City, settling at the Arts Student League to study art where his discipline, hard work, and sense of humor were widely recognized. As a student Norman was given small illustration jobs, but his major breakthrough came in 1912 with his first book illustration for C.H. Claudy's Tell Me Why: Stories about Mother Nature. By 1913 he was art editor for Boy's Life and just 19 years old.

Considered a modest, retiring man, not given to grand gestures, Norman impressed himself on America's collective imagination by his stubborn adherence to the old values. His ability to relate these values to the events and circumstances of a rapidly changing world made him a special person—both hero and friend—to millions of his compatriots.

It has often been said that Norman provided a commodity that people could rely on. This is clearly reflected in more than 4,000 illustrations completed throughout his 47 year career. He is best known for his contributions to the Saturday Evening Post for whom he produced 332 covers, beginning in 1916. It is noteworthy that the Post could automatically increase its print order by 250,000 copies when an issue had a cover by Rockwell.

Eighty magazines used his cover illustrations but, by far, no paintings by an American were ever published on such a global scale as Rockwell's "Four Freedoms." First appearing in the Post, the originals were used by the United States Treasury in a 16 city tour seen by 1,222,000 people who purchased over $133,000,000 in war bonds.

Norman's ability to "get the point across" in one picture, and his flair for painstaking detail made him a favorite of the advertising industry. He was also commissioned to illustrate over 40 books including the ever popular Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. His annual contributions for the Boy Scout calendars (1925 - 1976), was only slightly overshadowed by his most popular of calendar works - the "Four Seasons" illustrations for Brown & Bigelow were published for 17 years beginning in 1947 and reproduced in various styles and sizes since 1964. Illustrations for booklets, catalogs, posters (particularly movie promotions), sheet music, stamps, playing cards, and murals (including Yankee Doodle Dandy, was completed in 1936 for the Nassau Inn in Princeton, New Jersey) rounded out Rockwell's oeuvre as an illustrator. In his later years, Rockwell began receiving more attention as a painter when he chose more serious subjects such as the series on racism for Look magazine.

Christopher Finch, author and art curator, had this to say: "Norman Rockwell created a world that, because of its traditional elements, seems familiar to all of us, yet is recognizably his and his alone. He is an American original who left his mark not by effecting radical change but rather by giving old subjects his own, inimitable inflection. His career has been an ode to the ordinary, a triumph of common sense and understatement."

Rockwell made no secret of his lifetime preference for countrified realism . . . "Things happen in the country, but you don't see them. In the city you are constantly confronted by unpleasantness. I find it sordid and unsettling." His time spent in the country was a great influence on his idyllic approach to storytelling on canvas. From 1953 until his death in 1978, Norman lived at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where there is a museum devoted to him.

Although Norman Rockwell was always at odds with contemporary notions of what an artist should be, he chose to paint life as he wanted to see it. His themes and unique style have passed the test of time making him the best known of all American artists.

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Norman Rockwell's Timeline

1894
February 3, 1894
New York, NY, USA
1916
1916
Age 21
1930
April 17, 1930
Age 36
Alhambra, CA, USA
1930
Age 35
1936
September 16, 1936
Age 42
New Rochelle, NY, USA
1961
October 28, 1961
Age 67
1978
November 8, 1978
Age 84
Stockbridge, MA, USA
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