The curator of my America

Nabokov called his talents “banal” and a waste of brilliant technique. The highbrow art critics called his work “bourgeois” and “kitsch”. He was unjustly called an illustrator instead of an artist. Norman Rockwell didn’t care. He painted what he wanted to and gave the people what they wanted in his idealistic, sentimentalistic portraits. Over the course of 47 years and 323 original works, his perceptive, nostalgic eye for his America graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

Born in New York, he eventually made his way to New England. He first lived in Vermont and eventually landed in the small Western Mass town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. He did most of his painting there, eventually immortalizing small town life through his ongoing commitment to illustrating the cover or The Saturday Evening Post, consequently showing the world his views on life through his works.

I was 12 when he died. I remember my Grandmother being deeply upset. It was then that I made the connection between the magazine covers that littered her coffee table and the wonderful artist behind them. An aspiring artist myself, I was fascinated by his technique.

As I got older I began to appreciate his work even more. I moved from admiring the technique of Rockwell’s work to the subject matter behind it. His portrayals resonated with me. The magic of Christmas…

Rockwell always brings me back to a time when Christmas was about family and neighbors. The one time of year when everyone was always nice to each other. When people Caroled, drank Eggnog and a gift was appreciated, be it a hand made pasta sculpture from a small child or a simple card. We weren’t valued by the extravagance of our gift.

Rockwell was most famous for his Christmas works but so many other of his recurring themes impacted me. The fun, and difficulties of being a child (and remember that his was a much simpler time…

young love
a boy and his dog
the runaway

He didn’t shy away from controversial subjects either and he took heat about it but remained unfazed…

He was once told that his depictions of racial relations would get him banned. He insisted to the Post that if he was censored he would walk away. He was allowed to continue. He was a man of conviction.

I was raised with his values of post-Depression, post-war frugality and conservatism. Waste not, want not was a daily mantra. My parents and grandparents fixed things when they broke, they didn’t throw them away. They “darned” socks with holes, they didn’t buy new ones. In a time of burgeoning rampant consumerism and pursuit of the next “new” thing, they were firmly planted in the “old times”; a simpler way of life that simply made sense. I truly loved that mentality, to this day I reject the “new is better” mindset.

Rockwell, during those times, stuck faithfully to the old ways, he continued too portray the America that he knew and likely sensed that he was to be a curator of them lest they be forgotten. When a horse drawn wagon rode alongside a new-fangled “car”. When children played in the street without fear of boogeymen. When people knew, respected and loved their neighbors.

I often muse that I was born in the wrong era. I would have loved to have grown up in Rockwell’s ’20’s.
Baseball was played for the love of the game, not massive contracts.
A time when men and women dressed in suits and dresses when going out in public.
A time when families ate dinner together every night.
A time when children played safely outside, in a neighborhood where people knew, cared about and supported each other.
A time when Doctor’s made House calls.
When civility and manners ruled the land.

I long for a return to these days but I know they will never return. That is why I have the Rockwell’s Coffee Table Books at the ready. As far as I’m concerned they have never been more relevant.

16 thoughts on “The curator of my America”

  1. Very poignant and powerful, a fantastic read and insight. I’ve always admired the realistic nature of Rockwell’s work. I’ve never been into “stylized” art. Even in my comic books when the folks look clean and real (albeit admittedly larger) I prefer it.

    Unlike you and the other responders, though, I’ve never felt I was born in the wrong time. When asked what era I’d most like to live in it is “right now” or, if I must select an alternative one, the one immediately following today. I may have been born “too soon,” as a matter of fact. I long to see where the world will go in the next 100 years, in the next 1000, as we continue to press towards ever greater equality, equanimity, and human and scientific progress. Yesterday is poignant but, as someone pointed out above, lacked the amenities so prevalent today. I love this age. Norman Rockwell might not have, many don’t. But I wonder how many who lived in those times longed for “the good old days,” too.

    Again, I loved this read, and I love Rockwell. Another smashing hit, Bill. 👏👏👏

    PS, do you know Nicola Jane? Her latest reminded me of you the whole way through. 🙂


    1. What an amazing response Tom! To clarify a bit, I miss the values of the time period, I do appreciate the advances in society and medicine inparticular, for which I would not be alive right now.
      I hope to see a lot more tomorrows also.
      And yes I do know, read and follow Calamity Jane

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! And so very true. I do truly believe we have lost our soul in this country. But I cannot pin that solely on the US. I believe the entire world has lost its soul. We sold it for magic beans that turned out to not be worth … well … beans.

    I, too, think I would be more comfortable in a previous era. For me it was the 1930s and 1940s. I know I probably would not do well in an era with very little air conditioning, modern medicine, our modern sense of hygiene, etc etc … but even with all of those shortcoming, I think I would be more comfortable back then as opposed to now.

    But as you said in your comment above, it is up to us to keep those ideals alive. Otherwise, future generations will be deprived of them.

    So thank you for keeping the light burning with this wonderful post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve mused many times about growing up in a different era, one thing that I think of the advances in medicine that I would certainly have missed out on. I think what appeals to me the most is the simplicity and toughness that we’ve gotten away from. Of course, what I pine for the most was the respect people had for each other. Human life and dignity were valued

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I agree with you wholeheartedly. We live in a world where life is not particularly valued and where dignity is something demanded, but not given. Also, I think we “evolved” as a society to the point where we have lost the connection between what we do and who we are.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. You are a man with an old soul, my friend! Norman Rockwell has always been one of mine and my grandfater’s (who was also an artist) favorite artist. The runaway. Triple self-portrait. and. Doctor and the doll. are three of my favorites.
    His work reminds of a simpler time indeed…
    Wonderful read, Billy. Thank you for your writing talent.

    Liked by 2 people

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