Happy Birthday, Norman Rockwell, Born on the Upper West Side!
American artist Norman Rockwell was born on February 3, 1894 (died in 1978). He studied at the National Academy of Design the Art Students League, both in Manhattan. He was a prolific artist, producing more than 4,000 original works in his lifetime, many in private collections. The Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachussetts houses a collection of 700 of his works.
Rockwell was also commissioned to illustrate more than 40 books, including Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as well as painting the portraits for Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, as well as those of foreign figures, including Gamal Abdel Nasser and Jawaharlal Nehru. His portrait subjects included Judy Garland. One of his last portraits was of Colonel Sanders in 1973. He is noted for his annual contributions for the Boy Scouts calendars between 1925 and 1976, and his covers of the Saturday Evening Post.
Some artists debunked Rockwell for his idealistic and sentimental depictions of American life and did not recognize him as a serious artist. Rockwell himself referred to his art as illustration. Among his noted works are his "Four Freedoms" Series, inspired by a speech by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ("Freedom of Speech" shown below).
While Rockwell was considered apolitical he produced one of the most iconic images of the civil rights era. "The Problem We All Live With" is a 1964 painting that depicts Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old African American girl, on her way to William Frantz Elementary School, an all-white public school, on November 14, 1960, during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis. Because of threats and violence against her, she is escorted by four deputy U.S. marshals; the painting is framed such that the marshals' heads are cropped at the shoulders.
In 2011, at the suggetion of Bridges, President Barack Obama displayed the painting(pictured below) in the White House in a hallway outside the oval office.
You can pay homage to Norman Rockwell by visiting Norman Rockwell Place, West 103rd Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. The street sign was unveiled in 2016, with an event that included local high school students and their marching band, and great-grand-daughter Alethia Rockwell (pictured below). The Rockwells moved to New Rochelle when
Norman was 21 years old.