Though he is most famous for capturing life in the American Midwest, Norman Rockwell spent much of his on the East Coast, including New York City and nearby New Rochelle before moving to Massachusetts. Rockwell was born in 1894, and as an infant lived at 206 W. 103rd Street near Central Park. One hundred thirty two years later, a sign co-naming the street Norman Rockwell Place will be unveiled thanks to the efforts of a group of New York City high school students.
The students, members of René Mills’ class at Edward A. Reynolds West Side High School, learned Rockwell was born around the corner from their school during a visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in 2014. On returning, they scoured 103rd Street for a commemorative sign or plaque marking the icon’s presence, only to come up empty-handed. “At that point, we knew we had a mission,” Mills says.
The students formed the Norman Rockwell Place Committee and investigated how to get a secondary street sign. The committee created pamphlets, posters, and T-shirts in an effort to educate the community on the significance of the corner of West 103rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue. After months of work, the committee garnered hundreds of signatures in support of renaming the street.
Two weeks after a New York City Council vote of approval, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill to co-name the corner “Norman Rockwell Place.” The students, who witnessed the signing of the bill on February 25, will see their work come to fruition on Thursday, June 9, when the new sign is unveiled and Norman Rockwell Place becomes official.
As Mills explains, the project grew out of a course study emphasizing local government. “My students were mesmerized by the issues that were presented to the local community board. Getting the Board and the Council’s approval for their proposal was empowering,” she says.
She herself had long been a fan of Rockwell. “Rockwell tells the stories about everyday life as he has exposed the best and worst of our society,” she says. “Rockwell is the visual novelist that moves his audience from frame to frame as they are drawn into the mystique of visual story telling.”
She and her students felt it was important to reclaim the artist as a New Yorker. “I promised my students that if they took this journey with me, it would be bigger than they imagined and their persistence and hard work would be remembered,” Mills says. “Norman Rockwell Place would be part of my students’ legacy.”