Norman Percevel Rockwell, a 20th-century American painter and illustrator, was born on February 3, 1894 in New York City. Rockwell is most widely known for his cover illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post for more than four decades. Among his best-known works are the Wille Gillis series, Rosie the Riveter, Saying Grace, and the Four Freedoms series. Rockwell also created works for the Boy Scouts of America, producing covers for their publication Boys’ Life, calendars, and other illustrations.
Norman Rockwell drew inspiration as a child from his father and grandfather. He transferred from high school to the Chase Art School at the age of 14. He went on to study at the National Academy of Design, and at the newly formed Arts Students League, where he was taught by George Bridgman and Thomas Fogarty. Also serving as powerful influences on Rockwell’s development were N.C. Wyeth, J.C. Leyendecker, Maxfield Parrish, and Howard Pyle. In 1912 at the age of 18, Rockwell had his first major breakthrough with his first book illustration for Carl Harry Claudy’s Tell Me Why: Stories about Mother Nature.
At the age of 21, Rockwell’s family moved to New Rochelle, New York, where he shared a studio with cartoonist Clyde Forsythe. Forsythe worked for The Saturday Evening Post. Rockwell sold his first cover piece to The Saturday Evening Post at age 22. This began a 322 cover relationship between Rockwell and the Post over 47 years. Rockwell’s success in the Post led to covers for other magazines, including The Literary Digest, The Country Gentleman, Leslie’s Weekly, Judge, People’s Popular Monthly and Life Magazine. His sense of humor was incorporated into his works, drawing the viewer into the composition to share the magic between the viewer and artist. Rockwell painted the scenes and people close to him, as well as strangers who he asked to sit for him. His art of storytelling integrated with his skills as an artist.
In the 1940s, Norman Rockwell moved to Arlington, Vermont, where he started to create full-canvas paintings. In 1943, during World War II, Rockwell joined the legion of artists and writers involved in the war effort to help boost the sale of savings bonds. As a result of his efforts, he painted the Four Freedoms series, inspired by a speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt in which he described four principles for universal rights: Freedom from Want, Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Worship, and Freedom from Fear.
Rockwell later produced The Peace Corps in Ethiopia, which captured the idealism of the Kennedy years in a realistic setting. He also painted portraits of Presidents Kennedy, Eisenhower, Nixon and Johnson, as well as portraits of other world leaders including Nehru of India and Nassar of Egypt.
In 1977, Norman Rockwell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States of America’s highest civilian honor, for his “vivid and affectionate portraits of our country”.
Norman Rockwell died on November 8, 1978 of emphysema in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts is home to the world’s largest collection of Rockwell’s art.