Rockwell’s Silly Side

Norman Rockwell had a terrific sense of humor, as reflected in some of his most famous Post covers. Join us in a look at the fun side of America's favorite artist.

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What happens when a fireman (even in a painting) smells smoke or plumbers are turned loose in a fancy boudoir? Our favorite artist has the answers.

“The Fireman”

The Fireman 5/27/44
“The Fireman” From May 27, 1944

This may be the only known time when a picture frame inspired the painting that went into it. Rockwell found this unique frame while browsing through a junk store. Well, if you have an empty frame, you have to fill it, right? Carved into the old find were some artifacts of the fire-fighting profession: axes, ladders, and so on. It practically begged for an old-fashioned fireman to occupy it. So the artist conjured up this gent in the turn-of-the-century uniform, complete with a big, bushy mustache. In a fit of pure goofiness, he added a stiffly disapproving glare and displayed a lit cigar beneath the painting for picture-within-picture fun.

“The Plumbers” 

The Plumbers – 6/2/51
“The Plumbers” From June 2, 1951

For pure silliness, you can’t beat “The Plumbers” from 1951. Who but Rockwell would come up with a couple of working stiffs in a fancy boudoir? The homeowner is out for the day, but not the indignant, pink-bowed Pekingese. While crawling under dank sinks and unclogging who-knows-what is all well and good, why not have a little fun? “Here, Clyde, let me make you smell pretty!”

As usual, the details are terrific: look at that wallpaper, the grubby coveralls, and the plumbers’ tools (you can click on the cover for a closer view). These guys were actual plumber acquaintances of the artist, and they were asked to bring along their gear. Who else would have friends who looked like Laurel and Hardy?

“Tattoo Artist”

Tattoo Artist – March 4,1944
“Tattoo Artist” From March 4, 1944

During the WWII years, there were many, many serious Post covers with soldiers. If you look up artist Mead Schaeffer at Curtis Publishing, you’ll see armed paratroopers, jungle commandos, and military personnel in a myriad of war activities. Oh, speaking of Mead Schaeffer, he was a buddy of Rockwell’s and posed for this painting as the tattoo artist. He staunchly maintained that Rockwell made his posterior larger than in real life, which Rockwell denied. By the way, Mr. Schaeffer, I dig those socks. Apparently, the issue remains unresolved to this day. The sailor in the painting had apparently been in many ports, but Rosietta, Olga, and the rest are ancient history. This is a new port, and there is a new love-of-his-life. Rockwell even used a sheet of available tattoos as the background.

“The Critic”

The Critic – April 16, 1955
“The Critic” From April 16, 1955

The young art student is studying a painting that is studying him—an “unstill life,” if you will. Except for the frowning Dutch masters in the other painting, it is all in the family. The art critic studying a locket in the painting is Jerry Rockwell, the oldest son of the artist. The whimsical lady in the painting is his mother, Mary (Rockwell added flaming red hair for fun). Should the student notice the painting looking back at him or look over his shoulder to see the Dutch gents glaring at him, I suspect he would run screaming from the museum and take up another subject to study.

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  1. I so am looking for a Norman Rockwell Newport pillow with “Fisherman’s Paradise” on it. If you have any suggestions I would really appreciate it. Not too computer savvy and have looked a few places.

  2. Great Rockwell paintings. He had a sly sense of humor, always fun to see. Even in his more “everyday” covers, humor was present.

  3. In the quiet calm of his personality, Norman gave us and is still giving us an insight to ourselves that we alone only know. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the number is that there is no number.


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