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Norman Rockwell: Getting the Real Picture

Published: April 28, 2009

There is almost a Shaker aesthetic to the old Stockbridge, Massachusetts, studio where Norman Rockwell once worked. “One thing that surprises people, even our staff, is just how spare the space was,” says the Norman Rockwell Museum’s chief curator and deputy director, Stephanie Plunkett. “Rockwell was extremely neat. He cleaned up several times a day. Generally there wasn’t a lot of clutter around.”

The sparseness is still there in the old studio that has been on display for more than two decades. Hundreds of thousands of visitors have toured the one-room structure, seeing it pretty much as it looked at the time of the artist’s death in 1978. But beginning in May, visitors will have a new experience, one that Plunkett says will be more representative of “what Rockwell’s work life was really like.” Thanks to a cache of faded old negatives in the museum’s archives, the staff have been able to recast the studio as it looked nearly two decades earlier in October of 1960. That was the month when Nikita Khrushchev pounded his shoe on a table at the United Nations in New York, and by coincidence, Rockwell was at work in his studio on a cover painting based on a United Nations scene, The Golden Rule.

An over zealous photographer hired by the artist at the time captured the unfinished painting on film as it sat on Rockwell’s easel. Not only did he take pictures of the painting, but of everything else in the room as well.

For the past year, museum staff have been studying those photos and bringing all the pieces together to reinstall the studio exactly as it was. And the whole, as they say, is more engaging than the sum of its parts. Rockwell’s work life and personal life came together in his studio, and if you know what to look for, it can be seen in his finished works.

Norman Rockwell "Golden Rule" 1961
Copyright: SEPS. All Rights Reserved.

Rockwell finished his Golden Rule cover in November 1960, and it appeared on the April 1, 1961 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. In the upper right-hand corner, the artist inserted a portrait of his late wife, Mary, holding the grandson she never saw. After The Golden Rule appeared as a magazine cover, Rockwell was presented with the Interfaith Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, a citation that he treasured.

Visitors will now be able to view the unfinished painting that depicts the Biblical injunction: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (The Golden Rule painting eventually appeared on the April 1, 1961 cover of The Saturday Evening Post.) Around Rockwell’s easel viewers will see mounted some of the model photos and magazine pictures the artist was using for the people in the painting. Some faces were simply transferred from the original, unfinished U.N. drawing, which can be seen on the floor of the studio. Others, notes the curator of archival collections, Corry Kanzenberg, were modeled from Rockwell’s Stockbridge neighbors. “His assistant’s daughter was the model for the girl at the bottom of the painting with red hair, holding a rosary,” she says. The Rabbi with the big white beard at the center of the painting was actually Stockbridge’s retired postmaster. Rockwell added the beard and the religion; the man was actually a Catholic.

In the top right-hand corner of the painting, one can see Rockwell’s most personal touch, he has added the image of his late wife, Mary, who had died the previous year. She is holding their first grandson that she never lived to see.

Numerous mementos of Mary appear in the old photos, Kanzenberg says, including an abstract pastel painting she had created for an art course. The original no longer survives, but a local artist was hired to paint an exact replica from the single old faded color transparency that existed of the painting.

Other items that needed replacing, says Kanzenberg, included an old Philco radio and a large cylindrical tobacco can seen on a desk by the west wall. The staff located identical items on eBay. The old radio still worked.

Reinstallation photo of Norman Rockwell's Stockbridge studio.
Copyright: Norman Rockwell Museum.

Using the reference photo (standing in the window), Corry Kanzenberg, curator of archival collections, arranges the books on Rockwell

For an added touch of authenticity the exhibit now even features sound—a mock broadcast will play the favorite music the artist liked listening to on the radio as he worked perfecting his paintings—all opera.

“People who were there recall Rockwell listening to opera as he worked,” Kanzenberg says. “We have been having fun figuring out what opera he might have heard.” The program includes selections from Verdi’s Nabucco that premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in October of 1960 as well as recordings by Emmy Destinn and Enrico Caruso, performers Rockwell actually interacted with as a young art student when he worked part-time as an extra at the Met.

As they listen to the music, visitors will tread a new path through the studio over a hand-dyed rug, an exact reproduction by the same company that made the studio rug Rockwell used for years. “We are allowing visitors to move into the central part of the room, where before they were only able to walk along a straight path,” says Plunkett. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun because they can really see interesting details, such as all of the materials that were on his desk where his secretary answered his fan mail. They can see the writing on the wall around his Princess telephone including his analyst’s phone number. It will be a more intimate experience.”

Fortieth Anniversary

The new studio exhibit, A Day in the Life: Norman Rockwell’s Stockbridge Studio, is one element of the Norman Rockwell Museum’s 40th anniversary celebration. In July, as part of the special year marking the museum’s founding in 1969, American Chronicles, a traveling major retrospective of Norman Rockwell’s life and work, will return to Stockbridge from July 4 through September 7 before continuing on around the country. Also in November, the museum will launch the “first wave” of its Project NORMAN online digitized archive, making 40,000 items from its 200,000-item collection of photographs, objects, and documents available to scholars and the public worldwide at the Museum’s Web site.

About the Top Image

An October 1961 photo by Bill Scovil shows Rockwell at work on his Saturday Evening Post cover, The Golden Rule. Along the wall can be seen the artist’s original United Nations drawing done decades earlier. Rockwell works from his standing milk glass palette. Museum curators have duplicated the scene in their studio installation, including the unfinished painting as well as the exact arrangement of oils on his palette.

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  • I would like to know more about the posters I have. They all are 11 1/2″ X 15″
    1. Little Spooners or Sunset with Volume 198 No. 43
    2. Doctor listening to girl’s dolly Volume 201 No. 36
    3. Saying Grace

  • deana

    I have a pic of a boy and girl on a bench with a dog looking up at them, I can’t seem to find out anything on it…..it kind of looks like a plain water color? Paper looks very thick, old and grainy,very plain, almost looks unfinished,birds on a branch at the top and stamped name bottom left side with copy right USA.Any ideas?

  • Frances

    I have a norman rockwell pictures with 2 men sitting on bench reading a book .. could u tell me the value of the picture.. thanks

  • candis byers

    I have a norman rockwell pick of a boy and girl on a bench with a dog looking up at them. The Norman rockwell is stamped on the lower left hand corner and it states exclusively for Aurthur Kaplin co..inc..N.Y.C 1616d is this real its in the original plastic covering

  • Nick Lewis

    I believe I am in pocession of one of Nonrman Rockwells. Art eisel’s. Would like to know how to go about finding out if it is in fact the one he used.

  • shell Dalton

    I have a Norman Rockwell picture of a couple together, the woman is wearing a white blouse with rulles with a pink vest and looks like a pink pleated skirt, red shoes with a man hand on her shoulder there is also a basket of white daisies and a big dog. can you tell me something about it and maybe the value thanks much
    shell Dalton

  • Patricia Jones

    I have three posters, 1926, a little boy and girl sitting on a bench and a dog behind, March 29, a DR listening to a little girls heart and the third is Nov, 1951 a picture of 2 men, a small boy and older lady, sitting at a table in a restaurant, and she is saying grace. I was just wondering if these are worth anything and if anyone is interested.

  • elena

    I recently visited the Norman Rockwell Museum and the studio for Mother’s Day. There was a charcoal drawing of the “United Nations” in the studio that my parents absolutely loved and I was wondering if this drawing is available in a print and where I would be able to buy it. If any one knows where I can find it, it would be a big help! Thank you!!

  • Bob

    Found an old mailing tube with three Norman Rockwell reprints of his Saturday Evening Post covers. The mailing tube indicates it came from the Saturday Evening Post itself, anyone have any information of the origin of these prints?

  • Courtney

    I have an original Saturday Evening Post featuring Rosie the Riveter. It is dated May 29, 1943. It is the complete magazine with no missing pages. It has a small rip at the right top corner but other then that no flaws. It still has the original address label on it! I can’t find anything online about how much this is worth. I did find that they printed less of the Rosie Post then the others. Any idea?

  • Diane Martinez

    I want to know what the story is behind the photo of Glendale, CA teens on cover of the magazine in late 1961.

  • KojoC

    I’ve just discovered a puzzle paste up (17″ x 28″) of the front page cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Its dated; April 1 1961. The puzzle was published by Curtis Publishing Company 1961.
    Question is: do I have anything of interest?

  • Stacey

    First in His Class was the cover of Saturday Eve Post on June 26, 1926. Rockwell was never fond of school..and quit high school during his sophmore year.

    Source: Norman Rockwell and The Saturday Evening Post Volume 1 (dated 1976)

  • Grace Benson

    Where do I send a picture you might absolutely LOVE to remake in your style for a calendar?

  • Jackie

    I have a saturday evening post dated Oct.29, 1960 with a Norman Rockwell picture of John F Kennedy. Does it have any value?
    Thanks

  • Mel Olson

    I have two old prints of Normin Wockwell work ,and im trying to get a value on each print,can you help?…………one is dated November 4, 1939 Volume 212, Number 19……….the outher is Dated March 18, 1939 Volume 211,Number 38 They are bouth large prints. thanks.

  • Clay Wodham

    ‘River Pilot’, painted 1940, 44″ x 58″, oil on canvas, appeared in the September 21, 1940, issue of the Saturday Evening Post as an illistation for an adventure story by Carl D. Lane, sold at the American painting sales auction in New York, on November 28, 2007, for $2,167,000

  • Denesia

    I have two copys of the Norman rockkwell saturday evening post frame is this of any value

  • willie olsen

    I have a print stockbridge in springtime
    Norman rockwell
    (1894-1978
    I would like to know the vaule

  • Dr. May A. Webber

    I have the same canvas and like you know little about it. Mine is rather old and its condition reflects the same. Have you found anything more about it?

  • April

    Sorry, it is titled “First in his Class”

  • April

    I found an old framed canvas in the thrift store today. It is “Top of his class”. While I was researching this, I realized the one I have does not say “Saturday Evening Post” like the canvas up for sale currently. It only has the main picture with the teacher and the boy with his diploma. Is this common with Rockwells? I would like to know more about this particular canvas I have, but I am not sure where to start. Any help will be very appreciated! Thanks

  • JWD

    Sounds like an amos sewell from the 1950’s… not sure on the exact date, sorry.

  • clara triolo

    I am looking for the Saturday Evening Post print three children in the bathroom brushing teeth two boys and a girl anyone know the date or the name.

  • Janet

    I have 4 Norman Rockwell pictures. Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Fear & Freedom from Want. In the bottom right hand corner it says Painted by Norman Rockwell for the Saturday Evening Post. Are these paintings worth something or are they just duplicates of the original painting?

  • Douglas Gillespie

    The palette stand Norman Rockwell used in his studio is very interesting to me. I would like to know if it was comercially made or custom made for Mr. Rockwell ? If it is custom made, can you show photos from different angles and the dimensions. I would like to try to make one like it.

  • Jan

    I have an original Saturday Evening Post Cover from July 23rd, 1927. It has a pilot on it and the word “PIONEER” at the bottom and of course was done by Norman Rockwell. It is in excellent condition. Do you know the value of this cover?

    Thank you.

  • Cathy Stone

    I have a poster of the saturday evening post november 24 1951 on left upper corner,on the right upper corner has it cost $100,000 a minute-the story of the great storm of 1950,how close is war with russia? by demaree bess/its a reasterant sceane, the bottom of the picture is norman rockwell right lower corner has cpc 1951.I found out the name of it is saying grace, but it does not say that on the picture.is it worth anything?thank you Cathy!

  • Betty

    I have many old covers. How can I find value of these?

  • JAMES ATKINSON

    I HAVE NORMON ROCKWELL PICTURES ,THEY APPEAR TO BE IRON ON,S.
    THEY ARE ON CANVAS IN THE EARLY 70,S. DO THEY HAVE ANY VALUE?

    JAMES A.

  • Tina

    I Have A paper painting of THE FAMOUS MODLE T WAS BOSS OF THE ROAD Can anyone please help me find out anything about this picture.It look’s to be in the orginal frame nice condition.I have surched but just not in the right place.I Do know i have had it for about 5 years it has what seem’s to be light water spot’s in the bottem corners of the picture. Several years ago i found a lady that had one with the spot’s in the top of her painting.It is not like any of his other painting’s . You can’t find anything on it.If someone has any information Please let me know. I THANK YOU SO MUCH. TINA

  • mary jean

    I have a preliminary charcoal and pastel sketch of Santa and the Elves with no Saturday Evening Post Identification. I am not sure how to get it authenticated and take care of it. thanks for any info

  • loanne kunshier

    i have a preliminary charcoal sketch of the corn niblets ad “who’s having more fun”. i wrote to norman rockwell in 1965 and he wrote back to me saying, “i did this in 1937,38 or 39. i don’t remember who the models were”. ….this sketch is getting very yellow. i need to know the value of this, how to take care of the yellowing, what the potential value of it is. can you please advise me how i should take care of this, and also what options do i have for the future of this original sketch?

  • Norris Lineweaver

    A beautifully framed certified print from the Vermont gallery of Norman Rockwell’s Golden Rule is on prominent display in the Board and Conference Room of the world renowned Jerusalem International YMCA. Placement of the illustration was supported by board leadership after six months of open dialogue among Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders during the Spring of 2006, 45 years after the reproduction of Rockwell’s work appeared on the front cover of The Saturday Evening Post.

    Ahead of its time with a timeless message, Rockwell’s work lives on. Thanks to the publishers of The Saturday Evening Post for the courage and conviction to feature this image and message almost 2 and a half years before Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech before 200,000 marchers in Washington D.C.

  • Post team

    We contacted the Norman Rockwell Museum about your questions. “Norman Rockwell did primarily complete his final paintings in oil. For his drawn preliminary studies, he usually worked in charcoal or graphite. There are few examples of his work with pastels, a medium he infrequently used for preparatory sketches. Though the Norman Rockwell Museum cannot authenticate or appraise artwork, we can send owners of artwork in the right direction and would like to learn more about Steve’s drawing for our records.”

  • Steve

    I have a original pastel of a Fiddle Player that was given to a young sculptor in Wisconsin in 1929 by Norman Rockwell. According to a nephew of the young sculptor it was family knowledge that Rockwell told this young sculptor to ‘see what you can do with this’ in 3 dimentional. I know Rockwell maily did oil, but did he work in charcoals & pastels in his early career. Can anyone tell me how I can authenticate this painting.

  • Diana Denny

    It wasn’t a Post cover, but Rockwell did the inside illustration for a story called “River Pilot” that appeared in the September 21, 1940 issue. It shows a riverboat pilot at the wheel, looking intently ahead while a boy with a telescope is looking out to sea. A dapper old gent with top hat and cigar is sitting nearby. The caption reads: “The two boats held their own, smoke billowing from each, searing the swift current of the Gorge. They raced so for an hour.”

    Diana Denny – Archives

  • Caroline Leban

    year and a bit about River Boat Pilot.
    I’ve got books and will check them, but
    thought someone out there might know.
    Thanks much

  • Caroline Leban

    looking for the year when Rockwell did the River Boat Captain. I have a print, but no date and wanted to document it.
    Thanks much

  • Clive Zeff

    Hi,
    I am seeking info about Norman Rockwell’s painting “Artists Daughter” Ihave a certified and signed coloured lithograph of the origonal painting and i would like to know where the origonal is? and also the estimated value of the origonal and the lithograph. Thanking you. C.Zeff