When the Post featured Rockwell’s Homecoming G.I. in the May/June 2013 issue, it reminded reader Margery Manville of a letter she wrote to the artist in 1977. What prompted the letter was an article in her local paper, The Sunday Plain Dealer, from December of that same year:
Over the years, the critics found Norman Rockwell simplistic, corny, and superficially photographic and refused to admit him to the world of “real art.” The fact that he delighted and touched millions did not bend the membership rules.
He, himself, never claimed to be anything more than an illustrator who made a lot of money. “I paint life as I would like it to be,” he said.
That Rockwell’s art meant so much to so many might not have mattered to art critics, but it meant a great deal to Margery, then an executive secretary. And so, she wrote to the 83-year-old artist, who was in declining health (Rockwell died November 8, 1978). Here is that letter:
Dear Mr. Rockwell:
I sincerely hope that you read this letter. An article in the December 18, 1977, issue of The Sunday Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) prompted me to write it.
What I wish is to set down in words the very thoughts and feelings that you and your work have produced for me and, without a doubt, most Americans.
The “Old Masters” had their day. However, most of their subjects were titled and/or wealthy persons who did not typify the average people of any country.
Many “Modern” artists create work which must be accompanied by an explanation of what we are supposed to “see” in it.
Your work, to me, is human and real, therefore, it conveys universal feelings. It is also typically American. Our history for two generations usually comes through—as the serviceman returning home. If this is a result of an idealistic attitude so be it. What is so wrong with wishing things were as they should be! It’s a rough road, though, as we all fall short of what we should do and be.
You have been given a great gift, Mr. Rockwell. What is even greater is that you shared it with your countrymen, including amateur artists just like myself.
Critics, in my opinion, are just that—each just possessing his own criteria for whatever is at hand. I have never held much with their opinions. We Americans like to make our own decisions!
Personally, your pictures have caused me to smile, laugh, or get a lump in my throat, calling up an old, mellow memory. This, it would seem, is work which lives, and what could be more important.
To me, you are the artist of our day.
(Miss) Margery A Manville
To Margery’s surprise and delight, she received the following response.
February 18, 1978
Dear Miss Manville:
I am acknowledging your letter because, as you may or may not know, Mr. Rockwell is not feeling well.
When your wonderful letter was read to him, it brought tears to his eyes, so you know it was much appreciated.
He has asked me to thank you for your thoughtfulness in writing it and for all the kind things you said about his paintings.
A special thank you to Miss Manville for sharing her remarkable letter that expresses so well what many of us would have loved to say to Norman Rockwell.