Norman Rockwell Museum

Posted by on Apr 27, 2014 in Illustration, travels | 4 comments

Last Sunday we were on the road, visiting colleges. No sermons or egg hunts, yet the Easter bunny found us in a parking garage over the Mass Pike.


What serendipity to discover the Mass Pike ends in Stockbridge, home of the Norman Rockwell Museum. We decided to worship there for awhile.


As an illustrator, Rockwell holds a large place in my world, but I discovered I knew very little about him. Recently, author Elizabeth Hand visited Maine College of Art while writing a review of a book about Rockwell. She asked us what we thought of such a ubiquitous icon in the field of illustration. He is often easily dismissed, but I consider him a masterful theater director, casting real-life models into his narrative stage sets. In the museum, his preliminary sketches, rough paintings, and photographs he shot for reference are displayed next to some of his final illustrations, to which he brought even more personality and style.

His paintings are much larger than reproduction size. This one proved a family favorite.


I learned he got an early start, leaving high school at 16 to attend art school. He became art director for Boys’ Life at 17. By the age of 21, he was working for the Saturday Evening Post. One gallery is devoted to these covers, a captivating display of fashion, history, and cultural mores.


His early work used a limited palette to great effect. I love everything about this one, from the boy’s bandaged toe, to the dog’s costume, to the balloon echoing the clown’s suit.


What’s not to love about this common visual device, so expertly employed here?


Humor in expression tells the story here, and for only 10 cents.


This crowd scene is a masterpiece, with an economic palette of black, white, red and green reinforcing the visual theme.


I remember my parents had this magazine. Having worked in my parents’ motel as a chambermaid, I liked that Rockwell featured these cleaning ladies idling together over a program. Can you think of any magazine now that would show such a subtle story?


A retrospective of Murray Tinkelman’s work was also on display. We saw Nathan’s on a recent trip to Coney Island. All this hatching is downright impressive, as are the range of tonal values and receding signage.


Also on hand is an exhibit of Wendell Minor’s work; this bunny reminded us Easter candy might be melting in the car.


A short video about Rockwell showed great photos from his life and work, including this one of him working with a model.


He used himself regularly. He said, “The story is the first thing and the last thing.” Amen, Norman.


His studio is situated on a hill nearby, but not open until May. We made the pilgrimage anyway, just to gaze over the hills and be one with his element.


Visiting the Norman Rockwell Museum totally made our day. His dedication to craft inspires me, and I’m excited to be back in my studio tomorrow.


  1. Hi Jamie, Reading this reminded me of my winter research of children’s author/ illustrator Lois Lenski. I decided to learn more about her when I read something in a historical quilting book i had come across. She believed, as Norman Rockwell and you seem to, that pictures need to tell a story and have movement. She was once asked to illustrate a book but was having difficulty finding something in the text to make the illustrations “move” and have some substance. I don’t really know what I’m talking about as I’m not an artist…just struck me that her theme was so similar to what you put in your blog! Hope all is well…summer will soon be here!

  2. Great blog, always!

  3. Thanks so much for profiling Norman Rockwell, Jamie. He caught the true spirit of this country in its best frock and in its worst. His soldier coming home is as relevant today as WWII. He knew the grandeur of ordinary people and wasn’t afraid to show it. I never thought he was sappy. He just wasn’t a convenient cynic.

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