Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Put a puppy in it

Everyone who paints has identified at least one favorite artist that he or she admires. We have either followed their careers, have observed and learned from their style and technique, or simply love their work and are excited to study their paintings whenever we can. One of my favorites, and I’m sure the one I have admired the longest, is Norman Rockwell.

Nearly everyone recognizes his name, but if you don’t immediately remember his work, you will when you see one of his pieces. He was an extremely popular illustrator in the early 1900’s and continued painting until he died in 1978, at the age of 84. He actually had an unfinished painting on his easel when he died. There are many articles and books about him so there is no need for me to write about his life and art here, but I have had a few “connections” to his work that would be fun to summarize.

Probably my earliest exposure to his work was in my youth, with all of the Boy Scout calendars, books and magazine covers he illustrated. In the 1960’s, when I was a teenager working as a part-time janitor at church, I was surprised when an old woman brought in her collection of tattered Saturday Evening Post magazines that she had been saving for nearly 40 years. All were Norman Rockwell covers! I was delighted at her generosity and treasure the gift to this day; many have been framed and hang in our home. I sometimes will forget the church lady’s first name, although I can usually remember her last – Berry. It’s funny, but with some creative linking, first thinking of Halle Berry, I can remember her full name: Hildur Berry. She was a sweetheart.

A few years later I was on a canoe trip on Eagles Nest Lake, near the Boundary Waters. My fellow voyageur (and boss), Dick Lindskog, led us to an old deserted cabin owned by a friend of his named Purvis. Over the course of many years he visited Purvis every time he went north to go bow hunting, and Dick felt justified to snoop around. The cabin was locked up, but Dick wanted to go inside so he persuaded me to climb onto the roof and see if there was a way in. The roof was in bad shape, and I easily slipped through a hole and dropped to the floor to let him in. Hanging on a wall above an old table was an ancient print of a clown sitting at a checkers game, another Norman Rockwell piece. Dick was sure that Purvis would want me to have it and he convinced me that I could take it with, so I carefully packed it in the canoe for the journey home. I kept it for many years, but it eventually disintegrated with age.

Flash ahead several years and I am at an estate sale, searching for items of interest. There was a huge box of old magazines, National Geographic on top, but down deep I found 40-50 issues of American Artist magazine. I put in an offer of $5.00 for the entire box, and won. What do they say, “One person’s junk is another person’s treasure”? For me, it was a treasure, and the first issue of American Artist that I opened when I got home had a long article about Norman Rockwell. I was so impressed with my find that I wrote a letter to the editor of the magazine, telling the story, and it was published.

Norman Rockwell’s paintings tell the American story. It seems that he had the ability to capture on canvas the everyday situations that we have all lived through or heard about. My favorites have been the ones that depict families and the events that are dear to me. There is one with a family, on vacation in their old car, that reminds me of all of the trips we took when I was young. “A Day in the Life of a Boy” and “A Day in the Life of a Girl” are special to me. Another with a red-headed girl shooting marbles alongside two boys, one with brown hair and one blonde, really hits home because it mimics my own children. There is the baby sitter and a crying baby, the father doing his taxes, and the dad talking to his son about the birds and the bees.

And what great wisdom have I learned from this master of American art? Norman Rockwell once said, “If a picture wasn’t going very well, I’d put a puppy in it.” Brilliant!


John said...

I love that story of you jumping through the hole in the roof. In fact, I love all your stories! Tell us a story Dad, tell us a story!

Laura said...

I love Norman Rockwell pictures too. I remember looking through your collection numerous times! One of my favorites was the one where he showed two sequences of a boy and a girl going about their day and the differences between their activities. I think you have it framed at home. I can see why you like him so much. All his pictures sure can tell a good story- just like someone else we know!
And on another note... I didn't know you were into breaking and entering! Shame on you! :)

CousinK said...

Loved Laura's "breaking and entering" comment. Seems as if when this family gets together there's always another story!

Enjoyed hearing how Hildur Berry had saved those Sat Eve Post mags. Glad to hear it just isn't our family that saves things.... made me chuckle.