50 Years Ago: The Post Visits Norman Rockwell

When the Post resumed publishing in 1971, they knew there was only one person who belonged on the cover.

Norman Rockwell with a child model for a Postboy cover

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After a two-year hiatus, The Saturday Evening Post resumed publishing in June of 1971. Its rebirth was a big deal, and the magazine celebrated by featuring an artist on its cover who was larger than life, especially to Post readers: Norman Rockwell.

Rockwell started painting covers for the magazine in 1916; 55 years later, a coterie of Post editors visited the 77-year-old artist in his charming Stockbridge, Massachusetts studio to photograph him for the upcoming issue.

The idea was to take photos of Rockwell sketching a seven-year-old boy whose look — red hair, freckles, missing tooth — would be right at home on any Rockwell cover. They even had the kid dress the part of a “Post boy” in knickers, with a Saturday Evening Post satchel thrown over his shoulder. Rockwell obliged, and the sketch appears on the cover and in the article.

The artist’s studio was a revelation, a lifetime’s worth of interests and inspirations; it was scattered with dolls from different countries, weapons from different eras, books about famous artists, and a multitude of pipes — Rockwell’s trademark. During the visit, Rockwell sketched the youngster and talked to the new editors about the good old days at the Post.

After a flurry of photo-taking, the editors departed, leaving Rockwell to his quietude, and went back to Philadelphia to write this story and assemble the first issue to be published in 22 months.

For 200 years, The Saturday Evening Post has continuously published its print magazine (minus those 22 months, of course). And while Norman Rockwell has passed away, his legacy as a narrative artist is unparalleled. The 1971 article was prescient in recognizing Rockwell’s continued greatness: “The artist’s slender hands created a world that will never fade while his canvases survive.”

First page of the article "A Visit with Norman Rockwell"
Read “A Visit with Norman Rockwell” from the Summer 1971 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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  1. I love this magazine and have saved many copies.

    I am, of course, a subscriber.

  2. I worked for the Post in 1938 I was hired by a salesman who paid me 1 1/2 cents and 1 point toward a prize for every copy sold. Had 6 customers in the apartment houses on my street and took 4 copies to try and sell them to people visiting patients at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital which was 2 blocks away. My Dad taught me how to keep track of my sales and points. The world war ended my career due to the gov’t rationing of gas. The salesman was out of work. That is when I met Norman Rockwell. He did many illustrations on the covers of the Post that I was selling. One of the characters was Pvt. Willie Gillis. Since my name is Gillis, I kept looking for the covers showing Willie. Visited the Rockwell Museum many years ago and i brought back so may wonderful memories. Thank you Post.

  3. What a great article! Thank you for making it available. The new Post editors couldn’t have come up with a better cover for the re-debut. I look at it as charming and wonderful cover it is as a fan of this magazine, but also as a business man knowing there was a lot riding on it, and it had to be perfect. Norman Rockwell, the boy, the Post bag with the original logo; and that same logo across the top once again.

    All combined to instantly re-establish the identity of The Saturday Evening Post as just that. Between 1962 and ’69 it had been forced to reinvent itself to the point of having nearly lost its identity completely. It was still coming out on the pre-television economic basis where the ads took care of everything, and circulation in the millions was an asset. (Despite this however, the Post continued to put out great issues in the ’60s we all still love, right? RIGHT!)

    This had become a severe liability. What ads that weren’t going to TV were going to LIFE and Look which competed even more with TV. They came out in the late 1930’s which wasn’t that long before television. Their very premise right from the start was based and dictated by photography. When the Post folded, they were both in trouble due to many overlapping aspects of unsustainablity. In June 1971 Look only had 4 months left, LIFE just a year and a half.

    The Post was able to return to a format, frequency, circulation that WAS sustainable in the television (and everything else) age because it was designed to circumvent those obstacles. Beurt SerVaas knew exactly what he was doing, and 50 years later the magazine is as great as ever. So let us remember that 1/4 of the Post’s 200 year history IS the wonderful version we’ve had starting with that Summer 1971 issue.


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