Rockwell's work is both prolific and enormously diverse. As so many of his illustrations dealt with children, they charmingly chronicle chaning fashions through much of the 20th century, from the 1910s-70s. He is best known for his magazine illustrations, especially those for the Saturday Evening Post. He created illustrations for many other mediums as well. We have dealt information on many of the major areas in which he worked.
His early illustrations were done for Boys' Life, St. Nicholas magazine and other juvenille publications. Many important Americam writers and illustrators began their careers working for St. Nicholas. One of the most famous was Fransis Hogdsen Burrnett who first serialized Little Lord Fauntleroy in the magazine during 1885.
Rockwell sold his first cover painting to the Saturday Evening Post in 1916 and ended up doing over 300 more. The Post was the most popular American magazine in the first half of the 20th century and gave Rockwell access to a huge number of ASmerican homes. The early Post covers provide fascinating glimpses of children clothes. Rockwell was fascinated by children and many of the covered addressed their foibles and nicely illustrated their clothing. The Post covers include all areas of Americana, including presidential portraits. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson sat for him for portraits. He also painted other world figures, including Nassar of Egypt and Nehru of India.
Rockwell is best known for his work for the Saturday Evening Post. His drawings, however, appeared in many other magazines--most of the American magazines with mass circulation. His work appeared in Ladies' Home Journal, McCall's, Literary Digest, Life, and Look. No artist or illustrator has had his work so widely displayed to the American people.
Rockwell before America entered the War did an illustration for the Children's Crusade for Children in 1940. As his personal contribution once America entered World War II, Rockwell painted the famous "Four Freedoms" posters, symbolizing for millions the war aims as described by President Franklin Roosevelt. The series pictures a nation of patriotic citizens unencumbered by want or fear, free to speak their minds and worship as they choose. In a simple room, generations gather for a bountiful Thanksgiving feast. In a dimly lit bedroom, a mother and father tuck their child safely into bed. At a town meeting, a man stands tall and proud among his neighbors. In a crowd, every head is bent in fervent prayer. This is Norman Rockwell's America as depicted in his famous "Four Freedoms" series. This piece of war propaganda has endured as some of the most compelling images of the genius of the American nation. The only actual war image shows a lone American machine gunner amount to run out of amunition and an exoration to keep the supplies coming. Rockwell also painted numerous images of Willie Gillis, the carefree World War II soldier of his invention. The young lady who modeled for Willi's girl friend received letters from home-sick GIs around the world.
Scouting was of course founded in England. It did not take long to cross the Atlantic. American Scouting was founded when Norman Rockwell was 16 years old and they were his passion. His chance to be a good Scout came in 1924, when he created his first Boy Scout Calendar. From 1924 to 1974, in all but 2 years, he painted calendars for the Boy Scout organization. The images he produced are some of the most enduring and moving depictions of scouting, not only in America, but around the world.
Rockwell illustrated many books over the course of his career. Some are well known classics like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Others are lesser known works.
Rockwell in his earlier work did not address social issues. He paint an idealized America that perhaps never was--but perhaps should have been. It at least gave us a model to aim for. He avoided social isues out of an inclination to paint the ideal, but also because the Post would not allow it. He was not allowed, for example, to paint black people, editors told him that their readers did not want to see black people. Rockwell's paintings changed in the 1960s, perhaps in keeping ewith the temper of the times. Certainly his third wife incouraged him to address the full reality of America. The resulting works are breathtaking. One in particular seared the concious of America. It depicted a little black girl in pig tails wearing a white dress being escorted to school by burly Federal Marshalls. She walks past a wall smeared with the juices of a thrown tomato. The little girl was Ruby Bridges who at the time had no inkling of the great issues swirling about her. That first year the principal insisted that she should be taught by herself. A teacher and classroom was assigned to her. The other children shunned her. In addition to civil rights, Rockwell's later subjects ranged from poverty to the Space Age, from the Peace Corps to the presidents.
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