According to Rockwell, this cover took him longer to paint than any other. The reason was that pirate at the root of the family tree.
In 1959, Rockwell was dictating his autobiography to son Tom and thinking back over his family history. It might have been what inspired him to paint the family tree of an all-American boy.
The shape was based on a 12th-century Dutch family tree. He indicated the bloodline by the heads that touch the branches.
You’ll notice a family resemblance among most of the men; they were all created from the same model. However, the face of the austere New England minister is Rockwell’s own.
He struggled with this painting for months. It was hard work to make each face convey a character. What’s more, he had to decide whom to put at the base of the tree. Would it be royalty or rabble? Both, he decided, and he began with a pirate and a princess seized from the Spanish galleon shown in the lower corner. But when a friend saw this, he asked Rockwell, “Do you think you ought to start off the family with him, a cutthroat, a barbarian?”
Rockwell reconsidered. He replaced the pirate with a Puritan. Unhappy with that, he replaced him with a buccaneer. Finally he painted the pirate back, saying, “Everyone has a horse thief or two in his family.”
This article is featured in the January/February 2019 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
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