Before the Dance
Portraits of our Country
Born on February 3, 1894, in New York City to Jarvis Waring and Nancy (Hill) Rockwell. He had one sibling, a brother, Jarvis. Rockwell transferred from high school to the Chase Art School at the age of 16. He then went on to the National Academy of Design, and finally, to the Art Students League, where he was taught by Thomas Fogarty and George Bridgman.
Rockwell's early works were done for St. Nicholas Magazine, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) publication Boys' Life, and other juvenile publications. Joseph Csatari carried on his legacy and style for the BSA. As a student, Rockwell was given smaller, less important jobs. His first major breakthrough came in 1912 at age 18 with his first book illustration for C.H. Claudy's Tell Me Why: Stories about Mother Nature. Also, at age 19, in 1913, he became the art editor for Boys' Life, a post he held for several years.
As part of fulfilling that position, he painted several covers between 1913 and 1915. His first published magazine cover, Scout at Ship's Wheel, appeared on Boys' Life September 1913 edition. "Freedom of Speech". "Freedom of Speech". During the First World War, he tried to enlist into the U.S. Navy but was refused entry because, at 6 feet (1.83 m) tall and 140 pounds (64 kg), he was eight pounds underweight. To compensate, he spent one night gorging himself on bananas, liquids and donuts, and weighed enough to enlist the next day.
However, he was given the role of a military artist and did not see any action during his tour of duty. Rockwell moved to New Rochelle, New York at age 21 and shared a studio with the cartoonist Clyde Forsythe, who worked for The Saturday Evening Post. With Forsythe's help, he submitted his first successful cover painting to the Post in 1916, Boy with Baby Carriage (published on May 20).
He followed that success with Circus Barker and Strongman (published on June 3), Gramps at the Plate (August 5), Redhead Loves Hatty Perkins (September 16), People in a Theatre Balcony (October 14) and Man Playing Santa (December 9). Rockwell was published eight times total on the Post cover within the first twelve months. Norman Rockwell published 321 more covers for The Saturday Evening Post over the next 47 years. Rockwell's success on the cover of the Post led to covers for other magazines of the day, most notably The Literary Digest, The Country Gentleman, Leslie's Weekly, Judge, Peoples Popular Monthly and Life Magazine.
Rockwell's ability to "get the point across" in one picture, and his flair for painstaking detail made him a favorite of the advertising industry. He was also commissioned to illustrate over 40 books including the ever-popular Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
His annual contributions for the Boy Scouts' calendars (1925 – 1976), were only slightly overshadowed by his most popular of calendar works: the "Four Seasons" illustrations for Brown & Bigelow that were published for 17 years beginning in 1947 and reproduced in various styles and sizes since 1964. Illustrations for booklets, catalogs, posters (particularly movie promotions), sheet music, stamps, playing cards, and murals (including "Yankee Doodle Dandy", which was completed in 1936 for the Nassau Inn in Princeton, New Jersey) rounded out Rockwell's œuvre as an illustrator. In his later years, Rockwell began receiving more attention as a painter when he chose more serious subjects such as the series on racism for Look.
Another late career painting, Shuffleton's Barber Shop is considered by many critics to be one of his masterpieces. A custodianship of 574 of his original paintings and drawings was established with Rockwell's help near his home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and the museum is still open today year round.. Rockwell received in 1977 the Presidential Medal of Freedom for "vivid and affectionate portraits of our country," the United States of America's highest civilian honor. Rockwell is a recipient of the Silver Buffalo Award, the highest adult award given by the Boy Scouts of America.