Who Was Norman Rockwell?
In June 1993, almost fifteen years after Norman Rockwell died, the Norman Rockwell Museum opened in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Stockbridge is the town where Norman had lived and worked for the last twenty-five years of his life. And this new museum had been built to hold the largest collection of Norman Rockwell art in the world.
The opening of the museum was a special occasion. Many people who had posed for Norman were there. His sons planted a tree in his memory. Children played and ran around the beautiful lawn and museum grounds. The crowd sang “America the Beautiful.” The day was like a scene from one of Norman’s own paintings! According to an article in the New York Times
, “The sun was shining brightly, of course. The sky was blue and the weather was temperate. There were Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts . . . antique fire engines and a four-clown band. It was an all-American Day. A Norman Rockwell day.”
Norman Rockwell painted scenes that captured the everyday experiences of Americans. His paintings made people feel special. They also made people think, laugh, and sometimes cry. They reflected the lives of ordinary Americans. And they often seemed to give people hope. Chapter 1: A Boy with a Pencil
Norman Perceval Rockwell was born on February 3, 1894, in New York City. He was the second child of Nancy Hill Rockwell and Jarvis Waring Rockwell. Their firstborn son, Norman’s brother, Jarvis, was a year and a half older than Norman.
When Norman was born, the Rockwells lived on the fifth floor of a brownstone building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. At the time, the neighborhood was a bit rough and tough. There were a few street gangs who liked to start fights. Norman and his older brother did their best to stay out of trouble.
The kids in the Rockwells’ neighborhood spent a lot of time playing games, like tag and touch football. Jarvis was athletic and good at sports.
He got picked for teams all the time. But Norman was skinny and clumsy, and he hardly ever got chosen to be on a team. Fortunately, Norman was good at something else: He could draw.
The Rockwell home was a quiet, serious place. Some nights Norman’s father would sketch copies of pictures from magazines. Norman would sit and watch him. He would try to copy what his father drew. Norman’s father also read aloud to the family at night. As his father read, Norman would draw the characters in the story. He would imagine what they looked like and how they acted. Some of the books he read were by the famous British author Charles Dickens.
Norman’s father was a textile salesman—he sold fabric. Norman’s mother was a homemaker. Mrs. Rockwell was often sick, and she stayed in bed a lot. So Norman and Jarvis were often left to look after themselves. Norman’s father fussed over his ill wife and took care of her. But he didn’t pay much attention to his sons. Because of this, Norman did not always feel loved at home, and he sometimes felt very alone. Those feelings stayed with Norman throughout his life.
At least Norman had his drawing. He was able to find comfort and happiness while he was sketching. And he was good at it. Norman began to wonder if maybe this was something that he could do for a living.
Norman’s eighth-grade teacher saw that he had talent. She encouraged him to draw pictures to go along with his reports. Norman loved doing this. He drew Revolutionary War soldiers and covered wagons for his history reports, and bears, lions, and elephants for his science reports. Norman’s teacher even allowed him to fill the chalkboards with drawings. The other students were impressed by Norman’s work. And Norman was proud and excited that people appreciated it.
Every summer, the Rockwell family left New York City to spend time in the country. The family usually went to a farm in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. It was a big change for Norman and Jarvis. In the country, they swam in ponds, fished in lakes, went on hayrides, and looked for frogs. Norman loved this time away from the city. He loved the fresh air, green grass, and peace and quiet. Plus, he didn’t have to worry about watching out for the neighborhood bullies. Later in his life, the memories of these summers played a big part in his career as an illustrator.
As he got older, Norman was determined to make his dream of becoming an artist come true. He decided that the best way to make this happen was to go to art school. Norman’s parents didn’t really support his choice, but they did not stop him. Norman got part-time jobs to help save money to pay for school. He delivered mail, mowed lawns, and even taught sketching to a famous actress. With the money he made, Norman was able to sign up for classes at the New York School of Art, popularly known as the Chase School, in New York City. After some time there, he switched to the National Academy of Design.
In 1906, when Norman was twelve, the Rockwells moved out of New York City to a suburb called Mamaroneck. Twice a week Norman traveled by trolley, train, and subway to get to his classes in New York City. It took him two hours each way. Norman often felt too tired to make the journey. But he was determined to become an artist, and that was what he needed to do. Besides, Norman loved his classes. He was with other students who were interested in the same things as he was. It didn’t matter anymore that Norman was tall and skinny, with a big Adam’s apple and spaghetti arms. All anyone cared about was how well he could draw.
However, Norman soon realized that he would not be able to keep up with this schedule. It was too hard to go to high school in Mamaroneck, work part time, and take art classes in New York City. So at the end of his junior year, Norman dropped out of high school. He decided to enroll full time at an art school called the Art Students League. It was one of the most famous art schools in the country. So, at the age of seventeen, Norman packed his bags and pencils and headed back to New York City.
Copyright © 2019 by Sarah Fabiny. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.