Norman Rockwell Paints That First Roof Antenna

The past confronts the future in this Rockwell painting of a joyous owner of a new TV (and the precariously perched antenna installer).

Man installing an antenna

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High wire act: A precariously perched workman successfully brings TV to the home of an elderly gent in Rockwell’s New Television Antenna. (© SEPS)

One of Rockwell’s favorite themes was the past confronting the future. In this November 5, 1949, cover, he captures the happy moment when a new TV owner finally sees a picture on his set. The modern reader cannot imagine how happy new TV owners were just to see a blurry, flickering black-and-white image. And how many among us know the challenge of mounting an antenna on the roof?

Rockwell highlights the wonder of this new technology by showing its arrival in the old home of an elderly gentleman. The gabled roof line indicates the house was built sometime in the previous century, its age emphasized by the faded paint, the gable decoration that has lost its spindles over the years, and the weathered, cracked shingles. Notable are the gent’s red-gartered sleeves, a fashion dating to the 1890s. Dressed for the 19th century, he’s welcoming the 20th into his living room.

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