For years, American sailors and soldiers had held a vision similar to this in their minds. They could steel themselves to endure the hardships of war because they could imagine that ultimate reward so clearly: a peaceful, golden afternoon in their own backyard.
The image was in Rockwell’s mind, too, and he’d long considered illustrating something like it when the fighting ceased. But when the war in the Pacific ended sooner than expected, he had to work quickly so the cover could appear just two weeks later.
Staging his scene tasked Rockwell’s improvisational spirit and talent for borrowing. The sailor was borrowed from Williams College, where he was attending classes before returning to naval duty. The sailor’s blouse was borrowed from a shipmate who had won those campaign ribbons. The hammock came from Mrs. Robert Smith, a neighbor.
The house and sun-drenched yard were borrowed from another neighbor, Vic Yalo. The dog was on loan from Rockwell’s son Tommy.
Rockwell made his own loan to the scene, too: those civilian shoes on the ground without a military shine. The cigarettes were another matter. Rockwell was an inveterate pipe smoker and he couldn’t find anyone with a pack to lend.
In the end, he had to paint them from memory.
This article is featured in the July/August 2021 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
Featured image: Norman Rockwell / © SEPS
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