Connecticut College Magazine · Fall 2013


Corrie Searls '14, an art history major from Minneapolis, at the site of her dream internship last summer, Christie's auction house at New York City's Rockefeller Plaza. Photo by Karsten Moran

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Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “Rosie the Riveter,” 1943. Norman Rockwell Museum Digital Collections. ©SEPS: Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN

Five Things You Probably Don't Know About… Norman Rockwell

by Laurie Norton Moffatt '78

1. He was influential in the Civil Rights Movement.
Although famous for sentimental scenes of Americana that he painted for the covers of the Saturday Evening Post for 47 years, Rockwell had a second career, as an illustrator for Look magazine. In the 1960s he produced several iconic images of the Civil Rights era, including “The Problem We All Live With” (1964), which shows a 6-year-old African-American girl being escorted to school by federal marshals during school desegregation in the South.

2. The U.S. government initially rejected a series of his most famous works.
In a speech to Congress in 1941, President Roosevelt laid out the reason for the country to enter World War II: to defend basic human rights for people the world over. Rockwell responded to a call for artists to illustrate this concept with a set of four images he titled “Four Freedoms.” At least two of these — “Freedom of Speech,” showing a man standing up to speak at a public hearing, and “Freedom from Want,” a family enjoying a Thanksgiving turkey dinner — have become iconic. To Rockwell's disappointment, his submission was rejected. Government propagandists had been looking to use fine artists for the project instead of illustrators, who had created pro-war images for World War I. “Four Freedoms” ran in the Saturday Evening Post instead, each illustration accompanied by an essay. The publications proved so popular that the government reconsidered. Rockwell agreed to allow their use in the war-bond poster campaign.

3. “Rosie the Riveter” (1943) was a spoof of a work by Michelangelo.
Rockwell's “Rosie” is often confused with J. Howard Miller's “We Can Do It!” poster done around the same time, which shows a female factory worker, hair tied up in a bandana, flexing her bicep.

Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post cover shows an actual riveter, similarly muscular, who is taking a lunch break on a girder. Sight gags abound, such as a compact peeking out from the pocket of her overalls and a copy of Hitler's “Mein Kampf” under her penny loafers. The gag most obvious to art historians was Rosie's pose, which is identical to that of the prophet Isaiah on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

4. He admired Picasso.
In his famous “Triple Self-Portrait” (1960) Rockwell has four self-portraits pinned to his canvas, all by painters he admired: Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Albrecht Dürer and Picasso. Unlike the other three, Picasso's self-portrait is unrealistic, done during his post-cubist period. Rockwell said, “Try hard as I might to paint like Picasso, it always comes out Rockwell.”

5. He suffered from lifelong depression.
Rockwell often painted a rosy picture of life, but like many artists he struggled with self-doubt and depression. “I paint life as I'd like it to be,” he would say. That was not always how he experienced it.

Laurie Norton Moffatt '78 is director and CEO of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., and the author of “Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue.” She is also a trustee of the College.

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