A Closer Look at Classic Rockwells

You my be familiar with these classic Rockwell covers. But could there be details you've missed?

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“The Barbershop Quartet”

"The Barbershop Quartet" by Norman Rockwell Sept 26, 1936
“The Barbershop Quartet”
by Norman Rockwell
Sept 26, 1936


Did you know that there’s a Barbershop Harmony Society dedicated to preserving the history and art of the old-fashioned singing style? And did you further know that a large mural of this 1936 Rockwell classic graces the outside of the society’s beautiful headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee? If you click on the cover for a close-up and observe how Rockwell captured each face at the point of a crucial note, you can just hear the faint strains of “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” Or perhaps “Sweet Adeline.” And it sounds good!

I’m catching some details I hadn’t before noticed. I can’t believe I never noticed the old copy of “Police Gazette” with a scantily clad woman on the front page. And the Rockwell attention to detail includes a shaving mug, straight razor, and even a comb missing a few teeth.

“Rosie the Riveter”

"Rosie the Riveter" by Norman Rockwell May 29, 1943
“Rosie the Riveter”
by Norman Rockwell
May 29, 1943

With her strong arms and dirty face, Rosie the Riveter serves as the symbol for the more-than-capable World War II working woman. This was 1943, and it was no time for the delicate, coddled female beauty. But Rosie is still a girl, as shown by easy-to-miss details such as the compact and scalloped hankie sticking out of her coveralls pocket. The feminine touches notwithstanding, she is all business with the patriotic buttons on her overalls and—something else I’ve missed before—a copy of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” being crushed under her sensible brown shoe. You go, girl!

“The Great Debate”

"The Great Debate" by Norman Rockwell Oct 30, 1948
“lThe Great Debate”
by Norman Rockwell
Oct 30, 1948


When looking at this cover, I’ve always noticed the poor kid left to cry on the floor while his parents argue candidates. Get used to it, kid! This cover may be from the 1940s, but politics is still ugly business today. I’ve also always noticed that the sulking wife is determined the winner should be Harry S. Truman while hubby is adamantly for Thomas E. Dewey. What I haven’t noticed before are the overturned glass on the table, the kickin’ red slippers she’s wearing, and the dog and cat. The dog on the floor is just about as upset as the poor toddler! The cat on the back of the lady’s chair is in “fight or flight” mode—do I run or will I have to lash out at someone? “The dog,” said Rockwell, “is mine and so is the cat. The canary is straight off a picture in a bird-seed catalog.” It looks to me like that canary would like to fly away from the scene. Oh, and I love the old-fashioned toaster.

“The Doctor and the Doll”

"The Doctor and the Doll" by Norman Rockwell March 9, 1929
“The Doctor and the Doll”
by Norman Rockwell
March 9, 1929

Talk about a classic! This 1929 cover is one of the most beloved of all time. If you’ve ever had to wait in a doctor’s office, you’ve probably had time to study this scene. You no doubt recall the anxious look on the little girl’s face and the kindly, patient look of the delightful doctor. After much serious consideration, we think the prognosis is good for the doll. What I just noticed is the set of candles atop the desk and that—leave it to Rockwell—the right candle is not quite straight.

The “doctor” was model Pop Fredericks who had ambitions of becoming an actor, a dream that never quite panned out. But Pop was immortalized on Post covers if not the stage. Rockwell used him as a model time after time. He appeared on the canvasses of the great artist as a cellist, a tourist, a politician, Ben Franklin, Santa Claus, and, of course, one of America’s most beloved doctors.

“The Babysitter”

"The Babysitter" by Norman Rockwell November 8, 1947
“The Babysitter”
by Norman Rockwell
November 8, 1947

The poor babysitter! It doesn’t look like she’ll get any homework done tonight. Her history and geometry books are neglected, but, ever the good student, she is studying a babysitter’s guide to figure out—well, frankly—how to shut this kid up. And it appears that much has been tried already; cast aside are a teddy bear, a well-worn doll, a rattle, a coloring book, and a mostly finished baby bottle. Rockwell’s mania for detail even extended to the slipcover and the exceedingly detailed wallpaper. One feels for the baby, but the viewer can’t help but hope for relief for the beleaguered young lady soon. You could look at this painting time and again without noticing the cola bottle almost hidden by the book in the upper left. It’s almost a shame she’s too young for something stronger.

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  1. In response to Liz above: Rockwell did work for other publications and entities and the boy scout images were done for the Boy Scouts of America and are therefore not owned by The Saturday Evening Post. I would suggest contacting the Boy Scouts of America to find out how to get reprints. Thanks for the question.

    Diana Denny

  2. Visited Stockbridge Museum, Loved the April Fool Day prints, he had quite a sense of humor and humility combined, still discovering prints not seen before, a favorite was A Watchmaker working at his desk, since my dad was a Watchmaker, but it is seldom found.

  3. Thanks for the background information on these great covers. You can study them and always miss some detail, there is just so much to see. It took me awhile to find that cat, even after you mentioned it.

  4. God Bless Norman Rockwell. He loved America and was able to picture America in very pleasant ways. God Bless America!

  5. Is there a way I can get a Rockwell drawing of a boy scout. He drew several and I would be pleased with any of them.

  6. I love the old Rockwells. Regret that I didn’t save all of them a big fat scrapbook.

  7. My first e-mail from you & I love it. Thanks for such a great magazine. I look forward to each issue.


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