The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA, is hosting a family-friendly festival, Saturday, July 5, as part of the Independence Day Weekend celebration. The festivities will include a reunion of those who were models for the characters the artist painted in his scenes of American life. From 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., visitors can step into a world of apple pie bake-offs, Wiffle ball and nostalgia. Scheduled throughout the day, the models who posed for the paintings used as Saturday Evening Post covers will be sharing their experiences. One of the models, Massachusetts State Senator William “Smitty” Pignatelli, was cast as a young astronaut in 1969 and will have his space suit on hand.
Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) was born in New York City. His determination to be an artist was so great that he dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to study at The National Academy of Design. He then transferred to The Art Students’ League, studying with Thomas Fogarty, a popular illustrator, and George Bridgman, a painter who taught anatomy and figure drawing. After graduating, he was still in his teens when he was hired to illustrate for Boys’ Life, the magazine of the Boy Scouts of America.
Rockwell painted his first cover for The Saturday Evening Post in 1916 at the age of 22. For the next 47 years, 321 more paintings would grace the covers of the magazine. Subject matters were often humorous, reflecting everyday life as seen through a child’s eyes. His work resonated with the public but not necessarily with critics. He continued to portray ordinary events such as boys going fishing or the excitement of sitting down to a traditional Thanksgiving Day turkey dinner.
His paintings captured the patriotism, fear and uncertainty of wartime. His World War II paintings, the Four Freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear, were done in 1943. They were inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and not only proved very popular as covers on The Saturday Eventing Post but a tour throughout the nation was arranged to raise money for the war effort. As a result, the fundraising brought in more than $130 million through the sale of war bonds.
After he stopped illustrating for The Saturday Evening Post, he spent 10 years doing the covers for Look. The nation was going through some rough times and Rockwell’s work showed what was on the public’s mind. Poverty, racism, and the Vietnam War were all subjects that were part of his paintings.
Whether serious issues or childlike innocence, he captured America through his art. He set up a trust so that his artistic work would survive. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter and died a year later in his home in Stockbridge, MA. The Norman Rockwell Museum opened in 1969 while he was still living and continues to offer family festivals celebrating American life. For details about the Independence Day weekend, click on the schedule of events below.
By Cynthia Collins
Norman Rockwell Museum – Family Festival Schedule of Events