Norman Rockwell, America’s Illustrator

It is no secret that I love to travel, but there is one time a year that I long to be home.  Christmas time.  I usually save up enough vacation time to add onto company holidays to solidify two weeks off from my full-time sales career.  Upon telling one of my customers last week about my vacation time, the question where I would be going since I am always known to have the itch to journey off to a new place.  When I said that I was going to be staying home in the quaint village on Long Island for the majority of the two weeks, I received a surprised look and was asked: “Are you just going to stay in the house?”  I replied, “well yes and no.”  The truth of the matter is we are spending Christmas in NYC; and for the first time, we will be waking up in a hotel room on Christmas morning.  Outside of the two days celebrating in the city, I’ll be all cozy at home in my PJs’ spending time doing my favorite things outside of traveling; curling up on the couch reading, painting at my easel or writing at my desk with a cup of coffee.  After all, it is a busy time of year with decorating, baking and shopping, not to mention holiday parties and events, so being able to relax with no place to be and reflecting on this year through writing and painting truly seems like a delightful way to spend my vacation days.

Speaking of events, the small village where I live host two different holiday gatherings; the annual Old Fashioned Village Christmas and Winter Wonderland.  Both of these festive events evoke the feeling of the quintessential American holiday.  The evenings featured carolers dressed as Dickens Characters and Santa and Mrs. Claus going up and down Deer Park Avenue and Main Street, stopping in the local shops and restaurants spreading happiness and joy.

The Dickens Characters and Santa & Mrs. Claus at Winter Wonderland

The Dickens Characters and Santa & Mrs. Claus at Winter Wonderland

When walking on Main Street while attending both of these events, I thought of the famous painting, Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas by Norman Rockwell.  I visited the Norman Rockwell Museum this past July on a solo Sunday day trip and saw the original 1967 oil on canvas titled Home for Christmas that was originally commissioned by McCall’s magazine.

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Since I am feeling a little nostalgic and have no place to be on this Monday, but in front of my keyboard, I think I’ll start my vacation by writing about one of my favorite American illustrators.  Norman Rockwell has been referred to as the “modern creator” of the Christmas through his covers for The Saturday Evening Post.

Experiencing Rockwell’s Art, Life & Legacy

The Museum

One of the main reasons why I love Norman Rockwell paintings is that his illustrations have preserved 20th-century American life in a storybook fashion.  When I walked into the main level of the museum, I fell into the pages of his life and art that were divided into different galleries as if they were chapters in a book.  The first exhibit consisted of the Norman Rockwell Collection were on view were some of my favorite paintings like Before the Shot, 1958, The Runaway, 1958 and Triple Self Portrait, 1960.  I found myself several times standing frozen in front of the large-scale original paintings where I admired the detail and the patience that must have accompanied each brush stroke.  Also, each work of art had a synopsis on a wall plaque that provided the story behind the painting.  I have seen prints of Before the Shot in many doctor’s offices, but I  never knew that it originated for a magazine cover and a pharmaceutical and life insurance ad.  The painting is humorous, but also documents history by including the use of penicillin in the treatment of infections following its first use in treating soldiers’ wounds during World War II.

The Big Shot

The Big Shot

The Runaway

The Runaway

Triple Self Portrait

Triple Self Portrait

The second gallery was Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms paintings (1943), iconic images inspired by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Address.  The four oversized paintings were titled Freedom of Speech, 1943, Freedom from Want, 1943, Freedom from Fear, 1943 and Freedom of Worship, 1943. 

Four Freedoms

Four Freedoms

On the lower level,  in the Stockbridge Room, there was a Norman Rockwell introductory video that provided a brief biography and 323 Saturday Evening Post covers that spanned from 1916 to 1963.  The magazine covers were by far, my favorite exhibit. Rockwell considered The Saturday Evening Post to be the  “greatest show window in America.”

Saturday Evening Post Covers

Saturday Evening Post Covers

Three walls displayed every illustrated cover.  One of my favorites that I had never seen was titled The Prom Dress and was on the March 19, 1949, cover.  I liked it so much; I bought a small print that now resides on my makeup vanity.

My favorite cover.

My favorite cover.

The last gallery was titled Rockwell & the Boy Scouts.  Norman Rockwell illustrated the Boy Scout Hike Book, covers for the magazine Boy’s Life and their annual calendar from 1925 to 1976.  My son was a cub scout for four years, and we received many copies of Boy’s Life in the mail, and I never knew about the collaboration between the Boy Scouts and Norman Rockwell.  In retrospect, it was a perfect Americana match.

Rockwell & the Boy Scouts

Rockwell & the Boy Scouts

The Grounds and Studio

The Norman Rockwell Museum sits on 36-acres overlooking the Housatonic River Valley in the picturesque New England town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts in an area commonly referred to as the Berkshires.  The landscape had lively climbing sculptures created by Rockwell’s youngest son, Peter.  The landscape truly is beautiful, and it is a great place to walk, hike or picnic while enjoying the scenic view. There is also a seasonal outdoor terrace cafe for lunch or refreshments.

Serene Landscape

Serene Landscape

Rockwell’s last original studio (he occupied 20 in his career) was moved to the property and is open to visitors May through October.  The workshop was staged to look like October 1960, when he was hard at work on his painting, Golden Rule. I enjoyed seeing this picture because months earlier I had seen the Golden Rule when my son and I toured the United Nations.

Rockwell's Studio

Rockwell’s Studio

Inside the studio

Inside the studio

Norman Rockwell's last painting.

Norman Rockwell’s last painting.

Reflecting on Rockwell’s surroundings and sources of artistic inspiration, stirred the artist in me and had motivated me to dust off my paint brushes and pull out my oil paints. Hey no excuses, right?  I have two weeks and nothing, but time and inspiration.  Maybe, I’ll follow Rockwell’s lead and paint my own Main Street’s Winter Wonderland.

Have you ever traveled to get up close and personal with your favorite artist’s masterpieces?

 

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