Few artists have so definitively reflected the lives of average Americans as Norman Rockwell.
He began his lifetime dedication to being the “America’s Illustrator” as the 19-year-old art editor for Boys’ Life, the house publication of the Boy Scouts of America. A few years later he assumed his more famous position at The Saturday Evening Post, though he never broke his ties with the Boy Scouts. His first great achievement painting everyday scenes of America in his signature hyper-realistic style was “The Four Freedoms,” a series inspired by a speech by the U.S. President, Franklin Roosevelt, in 1943 during World War II. Two of the four paintings, “Freedom from Want,” depicting a family Thanksgiving dinner scene, and “Freedom of Speech,” with an average Joe voicing his opinion at a Town Hall meeting, have become all-American visual icons in the decades since their creation.
Rockwell was a true American patriot, lending his talents when needed as a propagandist of war during World War II, but also painting pleas for peace and reconciliation when inner strife tore at the nation’s fabric in the 1950s and 1960s. He painted his version of the WWII female icon, Rosie the Riveter, for the Post, and not to be confused with the “We Can Do It” J. Howard Miller government commissioned poster gal. Rockwell’s “Rosie” cradled her riveting gun in her lap as she had her sandwich for lunch, the heel of her shoe resting on a copy of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”
When the threat from without was quashed and racial division boiled over as the threat from within, Rockwell, the visual “spokesman” for the majority of average Americans, painted “The Problem We All Live With” (1964). It depicts six-year-old African-American Ruby Bridges on her way to an all-white public school in New Orleans on November 14, 1960. School desegregation brought threats of violence against the child’s admission, so she was escorted by four deputy U.S. marshals. The wall behind her is vandalized with the n-word and the letters "KKK". A smashed tomato thrown at the little girl drips on the sidewalk. Rockwell obviously felt it was his duty to tell hard truths when needed about his beloved America, and he did it as forthrightly and effectively as he did when evoking the joy of a family gathered for Thanksgiving. He truly defined for all time “American artist.”
Norman Rockwell Inspired Art
What is your favorite Norman Rockwell painting?