Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Art Critic

"Art imitates life and sometimes life imitates art." (Bruce Willis)

Norman Rockwell liked to incorporate a photograph or painting into his artwork, "bringing the inner artwork to life as it were."  Art Critic features a young artist, palette in one hand, magnifying glass in the other, examining an ornately framed painting at the art gallery.  The artist is studying the locket that the lady in the painting is wearing, intent on imitating the painter's technique.

To the artist's right is a larger canvas, also surrounded by a gilded frame, this one filled with three Dutch cavaliers who are unamused that he is examining the other painting.  However, the lady in the painting is smiling, enjoying the extra attention. The young artist was modelled by Rockwell's son, Jerry, while the woman in the painting was modelled by Rockwell's wife, Mary.

Art Critic first appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on April 16, 1955.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Thanksgiving: Mother and Son Peeling Potatoes

"One of the most loathed duties for a soldier is kitchen patrol, KP.  Yet here is this recently discharged soldier gladly, even lovingly, peeling potatoes." (

Norman Rockwell's milkman had just arrived home from Europe after serving in the 9th Army Air Corps. Richard Hagelberg had survived 65 daylight bombings and fought at one of the biggest battles of all, D-Day.  Now he was back on his dairy farm in Arlington, Vermont for the first time in five years.  

Rockwell requested that he and his mother pose for his latest Thanksgiving painting.  He had already tried two sets of models, neither of whom fit the bill.  Now, he suggested to Hagelberg that he and his mother, Saara Hagelberg, pose.  Initially, the returned soldier declined.  However, after the painter offered him $15 for an hour's work, he obliged.  

The Thanksgiving scene features a mother, in a simple dress and apron, peeling potatoes in a kitchen. Her son, garbed in his military uniform, joins her in the task.  "One of the most loathed duties for a soldier is kitchen patrol, KP.  Yet here is this recently discharged soldier gladly, even lovingly, peeling potatoes."  The soldier is so relieved to be home.  We can just imagine the conversation that is taking place.  The memories must come flooding back to the soldiers of Thanksgivings past.  

No longer forced to ration, the soldier's mother prepares a Thanksgiving feast:  a pot of cranberries and a basket full of apples sit on the floor; on the red-and-white checkered tablecloth sit cabbage, collards and a large rutabaga.  An orange and a lemon peek out from behind the salt and pepper shakers.  A plump pumpkin brings colour to the scene.

Thanksgiving:  Mother and Son Peeling Potatoes graced the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on November 24, 1945.  Rockwell offered the painting to Richard Hagelberg once it was completed, as he usually did to the models in his works, but Hagelberg declined.  Perhaps it was because Rockwell had added 20 pounds and 20 years to Richard's mother.  The painting found a home in the American Legion Post in Winchendon, Massachusetts.  In the late 1970's, it was transferred to the Norman Rockwell Museum. 

Thanksgiving:  Mother and Son Peeling Potatoes circa 1945 courtesy

Monday, 24 October 2016

Moving Day (New Kids in the Neighborhood)

"Being a Negro in the middle of a white neighborhood is like being alone in the middle of a crowd." (Mrs. Jacqueline Robbins, Chicago suburb Park Forest)

In 1967, Look magazine interviewed Mrs. Jacqueline Robbins for an article titled Suburbia.  In 1962, the Robbins were the second black family to move into the all white Chicago suburb of Park Forest, the first having already departed.  Things did not bode well for the Robbins:  when they first arrived they discovered a newly built face, the far side painted white, the near side painted black.  It was erected by the neighbour who did not want to look at them. "Being a Negro in the middle of a white neighborhood is like being alone in the middle of a crowd," said Mrs. Robbins. (

Yet, blacks were leaving the ghettos of American cities at an increasing rate.  "In Chicago last year 179 families moved into white neighborhoods, more than twice as many as in the previous year, seven times as many as in 1963, and 45 times as many as in 1961 and 1962 combined." (

The public reaction to the integration of American cities was mixed.  Some rejected it outright.  Others applauded it on paper, but they did not react well once integration knocked on their door.  More often than not it was adults who protested integration, not children.  In fact, one Detroit neighbourhood even built a wall to prevent the white children from playing with the black children.  

Norman Rockwell painted Moving Day (The Saturday Evening Post, May 17, 1967) as a reaction to the integration of the Chicago suburb.  Two black children stand in the driveway of their new home. Three white children look at them with curiosity.  The situation looks promising if not for the adult peering from behind a window curtain.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Marriage License

The young couple arrives at the clerk's office, full of excitement.  Today. June 30, 1955, is the most important day of their lives.  They are about to say "I do".  The groom wears a white suit, the bride, a bright yellow dress.

The clerk, however, sits in his chair, unamused.  He has seen it all before.  He seems to mimic his surroundings:  paint peels from the walls; cigarette butts sit discarded on the floor; an open map lies discarded on top of a bookshelf.  But the clerk is not all bad.  A tabby cat lingers by his chair.

After a brief ceremony, the clerk will go on with his mundane affairs.  However, the new couple will go out into the brave new world, its light emanating through the arched window.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Window Washer

Jim Stafford took an art correspondence course with Norman Rockwell while in high school.  Five years later, while stationed at an army base in Massachusetts, he wrote a letter to the artist who invited him to his home.  When Stafford arrived, Rockwell "looked [him] up and down and said, 'You'll do.'"  Stafford wasn't sure what that meant.  It turned out Rockwell wanted him to pose as a model for his latest painting. (

Stafford would play a Manhattan window washer who comes upon an executive dictating a letter to his secretary.  The secretary looks up from her work to notice the window washer winking at her, oblivious to the executive.  Now she has likely missed a few sentences.  How will she explain to her boss what has transpired?

Rockwell paid his model $30 for three days work.  When Stafford tried to cash the pay cheque, the bank teller didn't believe it was a valid cheque, given the identity of the issuer.  Years later, he wished he had kept the cheque for posterity.

Window Washer first appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on September 17, 1960.  The original painting is now in the possession of movie maker Steven Spielberg.

Friday, 21 October 2016

The Jury

"Her duty is to vote her conscience." (

Twelve individuals gather in a wood panelled room.  A lamp hangs above them.  Cigarette smoke lingers in the air, but not as thick as the tension.  Eleven men stare at the lone holdout, a woman, who prevents the jury from reaching a unanimous verdict.  Her body languages shows, however, that she is not easily persuaded.  Her duty is to vote her conscience.

Norman Rockwell's painting, The Jury, which first appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on February 14, 1959, may have been inspired by the major motion picture Twelve Angry Men which debuted in 1957.  The movie, which starred Henry Fonda as the foreman, featured a hung jury.  Eleven members were ready to hang the accused; however, the twelfth just couldn't bring himself to convict him.  One by one, after much deliberation, the eleven members come to the same conclusion. The entire movie is filmed in one room, much like a play.  In fact, Reginald Rose wrote the original play back in 1954 for a CBS anthology television series.

Twelve Angry Men still shows how the men cannot reach a consensus courtesy

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Walking to Church

"No man with a conscience can just bat out illustrations.  He's got to put all of his talent, all of his feeling into them." (Judy Goffman, The Great American Illustrators)

Walking to Church features a family of five walking down a street, Bibles in their hands, dressed in their Sunday best.  The businesses, a barbershop, a hair salon and a restaurant, are all closed on this day of rest.  Milk bottles sit on stoops, not yet brought in by the customers.  The steeple pokes up from the businesses, the bell ringing.

Rockwell based the steeple on the one from the North Bennington Church.  The street is based on one in Little Italy in Troy, Vermont which included a restaurant called the Silver Dollar.  Rockwell's inspiration for the painting was a piece by Johannes Vermeer's called View of Houses in Delft.

Rockwell's attention to detail is always evident.  Notice the intricate designs below the parapet of the barbershop.  Take note of the antennas on the rooftops.  A flock of birds draws our eye to the church tower.  "[Without] them, one might not have realized that the family was going to church." (  As Rockwell explained:  "No man with a conscience can just bat out illustrations.  He's got to put all of his talent, all of his feeling into them."

Walking to Church, which first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post on April 4, 1953, sold at Sotheby's Auction for $3.2 million in 2013.