Inside Job

Norman Rockwell's unconventional approach to illustrating fiction.

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Though most well-known for Post covers, Norman Rockwell also created dozens of memorable short-story illustrations, including this touching scene for “The Handkerchiefs” by author Dorothy Thomas in The Saturday Evening Post on May 11, 1940. In the tale, a young girl finds a lace handkerchief with initials that lead her to its owner, a wealthy elderly woman who shares her memory of lost love.

Rockwell skillfully orchestrates the composition by placing the table at top, models at center, and the white hat at bottom. The effect is to create a diagonal line that leads the eye to the two main characters. And the handkerchief? You won’t find one. The artist offers no obvious clues as to what the story is about, relying on the power of the image to ignite imaginations and emotions. “Many illustrators of fiction look through a story to find the most dominant or dramatic incident and illustrate that,” Rockwell said. “I prefer to discover the atmosphere of a story — the feeling behind it — and then to express this basic quality.”

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