Here’s a story for you.
Very early one morning, I couldn’t sleep so I went on Facebook. I was scanning the feed, looking for something to connect to, hold on to, perhaps transport me.
I happened upon a friend’s post of this painting depicting a boy in bed. It immediately drew me in. It’s evening, and he’s sitting up in bed, intently reading. Completely absorbed. So focused on his book that he tilts the lamp to directly shine its light so no text is obscured, and shuts out all distractions. Who painted this? I wondered.
I had somehow overlooked the signature. It was so early in the morning; my experience was one of falling into the reality of the painting — I was as absorbed by it as the boy was with his book. There seemed to be all these secrets in that room waiting to be revealed.
I started to explore all the details. I noticed the subtle, gentle way the view outside his window was painted; the welcoming lights of the next-door neighbor’s, the first stars peaking out of the sky. The cord of the window shade inexplicably caught in the drapes — this detail fascinated me. A quiet, off-kilter wink that directs your attention back to the boy instead of out the window. I noticed the hilt of the sword stuck behind the painting on the wall above him, difficult to make out at first. An indication of adventure. Some sort of animal and a man are pictured in the painting — the man appears to be backing away from the beast. Deep shadows against the wall create a powerful silhouette of the boy and contrast with the very strong light of the lamp. I almost missed the dog, sleeping contentedly, one with the quilt and the line of the boy’s propped up legs. Then I noticed the worn shoes, one resting on the other, mirroring the dog resting on the boy’s feet.
Those look like Pop’s shoes, the kind he would draw. Pop loved careworn shoes of all kinds. I was puzzled. Again I thought, Who painted this?
I noticed the books on the side table, and the lamp cord falling into shadow beyond the light’s reach. The dog’s markings reflect the pattern in the quilt mirroring the pattern of the glass lampshade. And what is the boy eating – is that a box of crackers?
The magic of the painting held me for quite a while. I didn’t want to leave the comfort and safety of that room, the boy’s world and that private moment.
I went back to my friend’s page and saw that he had credited the image in another post. It was a Norman Rockwell! How could I not have known?! It was an epiphany. Never before had I seen my grandfather’s work with fresh eyes — for the first time I didn’t bring my history into viewing it. I had complete purity of vision, and I now understood what people have always said to me — that to enter into the magic of one of his paintings, the world he created, is to be truly transported.
This painting is part of the Edison Mazda series that my grandfather painted from 1920 to 1927. I mentioned this series in my last post on Young Valedictorian. I particularly love this series — it speaks to the adventure, enchantment, and safety of childhood.
P.S. It is titled And Every Lad May Be Aladdin (Crackers in Bed), Edison Mazda advertisement, 1920. Now we know what’s he’s eating!