Norman Rockwell’s illustrations and paintings comprise one of America’s most recognizable oeuvres. Born in New York City to the kind of upper middle class family that he’d often portray, he showed artistic talent from a young age, becoming the art editor of the Boy Scouts of America’s publication, Boy’s Life, at 19.
Rockwell’s career-defining tenure at the Saturday Evening Post commenced when he was 22, in 1916. In 50 years, he created over 300 covers that generally presented idealized images of life in small town America. His Post covers spanned the end of World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and the Civil Rights movement. They created an American nostalgia that endures to this day, although some viewers now critique them for idealizing white America during times of social injustice. That critique fails to acknowledge that his Post drawings—which often did encapsulate nuanced concerns relating to American gender, race, and rights—were commercial commissions, not pure reflections of Rockwell’s vision.
Rockwell’s paintings in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement strongly advocated for a compassionate society and social equality for black Americans. He applied his artistry to real-life events central to racial activism in works like Murder in Mississippi (1965) and The Problem We All Live With (1964). He also displayed his democratic values in non-specific works like The Golden Rule (1961) and New Kids in the Neighborhood (1967).
Rockwell lived all over the United States, notably in California, New York, and Massachusetts. He had three wives and three sons, dying at 84 of emphysema in Massachusetts, where the Norman Rockwell Museum was founded nine years before his death.
While the American public has continually embraced him, the elite art world only recently recognized Rockwell as a dynamic artist. Rockwell’s seemingly endless body of work allows for constant analysis, calling for continual reinterpretations as American society grows and changes.
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