Lynnfield,  November 21 2018,  Peabody

Norman Rockwell depicted an idealized version of American Thanksgiving

Norman Rockwell depicted an idealized version of American Thanksgiving

By Helen Breen

“Maybe as I grew up and found the world wasn’t the perfect place I had thought it to be, I unconsciously decided that if it wasn’t an ideal world, it should be, and so painted only the ideal aspects of it.”

 

So wrote Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), American painter extraordinaire, reflecting back on his life’s work. Recognized for his artistic talents very young, he received his initial commission at age 17. By his early 20’s, he was designing the first of 321 covers for the Saturday Evening Post, in a relationship that would last for 47 years.

In the late 30’s the Rockwells settled in Arlington, Vt., a perfect perch from which Norman observed the simple charms of small town life and recreated them in his illustrations. The humorous and folksy appeal of these images was dismissed by many critics as “overly sweet” and tending towards “an idealistic or sentimentalized portrayal of American life.” Yet the popularity of his drawings for books and catalogs, Boy Scout calendars, and advertisements for products, like Coca-Cola, assured his financial success and his popularity with a majority of Americans.

 

Creative maturity

Inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II, the artist created his Four Freedoms series, which took seven months to complete: “Freedom from Want,” “Freedom of Speech,” “Freedom of Worship” and “Freedom from Fear.” The iconic paintings toured the United States in 1943, generating over $130 million for War Bonds. Rockwell also contributed scores of other works supportive of the war effort throughout the conflict.

In the early 50’s, Rockwell and his family moved to Stockbridge, Mass. His mature work began to focus more “on themes concerning poverty, race, and the Vietnam War.” One year before his death in 1977, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Gerald Ford. The President concluded, “His vivid and affectionate portraits of our country and ourselves have become a beloved part of the American tradition.”

In 1973 the artist established a trust to preserve his artistic legacy that became the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. His studio and its content were added to the property, which is visited by thousands every year.

 

—Send comments to helenbreen@comcast.net.

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