I began painting at the age of nine. (Yep, that's me on the right.) At the time, I only knew of a hand full of contemporary illustrators. Norman Rockwell was perhaps the Illustrator I was most familiar with. Not only was I amazed by his talent, craftsmanship and storytelling ability but I could relate to much of his small town subject matter. For hours I used to pour over books with his artwork in it. I was around thirteen years old when I heard of his passing. I remembered thinking how sad the world would be with no new paintings from Norman Rockwell. As with a lot of my fellow illustrators the work of Norman Rockwell had a great impact on my work and from a very young age.
This Labor Day weekend I finally made my pilgrimage to the Norman Rockwell Museum. The Museum is nestled outside the small town of Stockbridge, MA in the picturesque Berkshires. While other small towns across the country have turned into strip malls of outlet stores, fast food shops and chain restaurant/bars, Stockbridge has retained it's small town New England integrity and charm.
I try to get out and visit art museums wherever I may roam. I've seen many originals from many from artists from throughout history. As I was driving to Stockbridge it occurred to me that I had never seen an original Rockwell painting. I was overwhelmed as soon as I walked in. I was familiar with nearly all of the paintings from the art books I had studied from my formative years. To see them up close and in person was a joy. However, I suddenly became "Sir" to the kind security folks at the Museum. "Sir please stay behind the ropes" Sir can you keep you hands away from the paintings". Had the ropes been electrified I'd have been slightly more consciences. But things being what they were, I simply couldn't help myself.
Rockwell's, "The Four Freedom's" which were four paintings derived from the 1941 state of the Union Address by Franklin D. Roosevelt, were in a room all to themselves. The size of the paintings was imposing. I felt like I'd laid eyes on the Holy Grail complete with trumpets, angels singing and Terry Gilliam animation. It was an art religious experience.
Rockwell's Studio was relocated to the grounds behind the Museum in 1986. Originally the studio has been left the way it was when Rockwell died in 1978 at the age of 84. Later it was changed to a 1960s state. Seeing the workspace of other artists always intrigues me, as well. In Rockwell's Triple Self Portrait there is a helmet on top of his easel. That helmet is still on the easel. There is also a bent-up ash can next to the easel where he, no doubt, emptied his pipe. It too is still there. Last but not least was the that pipe. That crazy iconic pipe.
If you are ever in the Stockbridge, MA area, do yourself a favor and make the trip to the Norman Rockwell Museum. http://www.nrm.org/