Normal Rockwell was an American painter and illustrator, known for his romanticized depictions of "the American way of life". His cover illustrations appeared on the Saturday Evening Post over a course of 47 years, and he also produced a large body of work for the Boy Scouts of America. His photorealistic artwork was a combination of photograph reproduction and the artist's own vision, and was characterized by its strong sense of sentimentality and morality.
Norman Percevel Rockwell was born in New York City as a direct descendant of one of the original settlers of Windsor, Connecticut. He went to Chase Art School at the age of 14, and later also attended the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League, where his teachers were Thomas Fogarty, George Bridgman, and Frank Vincent DuMond. Rockwell got his first assignments from youth publications like St. Nicholas Magazine. He also began his long association with the Boy Scouts of America during the early stages of his career. He served as staff artist for the organization's magazine Boy's Life for a couple of years, and even became its art editor at age 19. He continued to contribute artworks to the magazine, and also to the annual Boy Scouts calendars, during his entire career. He additionally made drawings for the monthly magazine of the American Red Cross.
At the age of 21, Rockwell settled in New Rochelle, New York, where he shared a studio with cartoonist Vic Forsythe. Forsythe introduced him to the Saturday Evening Post, to which he contributed his first cover in 1916. He became vital for the magazine's look-and-feel, as he designed over 300 original covers the next decades, until 1963. His sentimental and nostalgic illustrations of American rural family life continue to be reproduced as posters and prints, such as his masterpieces 'Saying Grace' (from Thanksgiving, 1951), 'Walking to Church' (1953) and 'Breaking Home Ties' (1954).
Some of his covers have sequential narratives, like 'The Gossips' from 1948 and the 1952 companion pieces 'Day in the Life of a Little Boy' and 'Day in the Life of a Little Girl'. His success with the Post also led to assignments from other magazines, such as Literary Digest, the Country Gentleman, Leslie's Weekly, Judge, Peoples Popular Monthly and Life magazine. There was even an effort to develop a daily comic strip with Elliot Caplin for King Features Syndicate, but Rockwell's way of working proved too time-consuming for such a project. With Albert Dorne, he was also among the co-founders of the Famous Artists School, an institution for art correspondence courses, in 1948.
He served as military artist during World War II, and made a couple of iconic works during this period. His 1943 set 'The Four Freedoms' depicts the four essential human rights that should be universally protected: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. For the Post's cover for Memorial Day 1943, he used a rowdy variation of 'Rosie the Riveter', a cultural icon that represented the American women who worked in factories and shipyards during the war. Another famous piece was 'We, Too, Have a Job to Do' (1944), that was made to encourage Scouts to participate in the war effort.
In 1963, Rockwell left the Saturday Evening Post, and began an association with Look magazine, that lasted until 1973. Where his work for the Post can be described as "feel-good", Rockwell started using more serious themes in his work for Look, such as civil rights and poverty, as well as space exploration. His most notable work for Look is probably 'The Problem We All Live With' (1963), a painting of six year-old Ruby Bridges being escorted into a New Orleans school in 1960. This iconic moment in America's troubled civil rights history was on prominent public display in The White House with the support of President Obama in 2011.
In addition to his magazine work, Rockwell was commissioned to make portrait paintings, for instance for the Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. He also illustrated more than forty books, including 'Tom Sawyer' and 'Huckleberry Finn', and also designed advertisements (most notably for Coca Cola), movie posters, sheet music, stamps and murals. In 1960, he released his autobiography, 'My Adventures as an Illustrator', that he had made with son Thomas, following the death of his wife Mary in 1959.
In 1977, Rockwell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the USA's highest civilian honor. Despite this, his work was generally not appreciated within the serious art circles. Critics deemed his work too traditional, too mainstream, and too sentimental. The term "Rockwellesque" was even made up for artworks that were considered kitschy or idealistic. However, his more engaged work for Look magazine gained more appreciation.
Norman Rockwell died of emphysema at the age of 84 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The Norman Rockwell Museum was opened in his hometown Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in 1969. This museum has the largest collection of original Rockwell art, and also houses the Normal Rockwell Archives. In 1996 an asteroid was named after him.