Norman Rockwell Certainly No "Palooka"

Article in The Pallidum - Item (Richmond, Indiana) 10 April 1954

By Annie Lambert (edited)

Popular Science Cover Norman Rockwell
Popular Science Cover Norman Rockwell

Make yourself invisible, walk into the Arlington Vermont, studios of artist Norman Rockwell while he is working and you might hear him muttering to himself, "Oh gosh, oh gosh, what a palooka I turned out to be!"

But this man, well-known for his so true to life magazine cover drawings is no "palooka." He is a top-notch dead-serious artist, and though he is over 60 years old, he is still tickling the funny bone of Americans with his work. He was mentioned recently in the regular grab bag feature on this page.

I am pretty sure that Norman Rockwell does not try to be a comedian, but many incidents surrounding his climb to success are hilarious.

One of the first of these occurred back in 1916 when he first visited the office of the magazine for which he now works. He carried the drawings that he was submitting in a large black case made by a harness maker.

As he sat nervously in the waiting room out walked two men whom he later learned were Irvin S. Cobb and Samuel G. Blythe. They eyed the black sketch case and roamed around it several times with exaggerated frowns. Finally, Cobb said, "Young man is that a coffin?"

When Rockwell said no, Cobb replied, "Good we were afraid that you had a body in it."

Editor Impressed

The magazine editor was at once impressed by the young man's work, and he started his long career with the publication. He is now one of a trio of cover artists along with Mead Schaeffer and John Atherton. The three operate a "Mutual Admiration, Hand-Holding and Aid Society," to help each other out during discouraging times.

Rockwell once worked for $50 a month as art editor for New York boy's magazine.

Rockwell, sincere in his efforts to get real feelings into his pictures, will go along way to get "natural colour." He once saw a farmer wearing a well-seasoned pair of pants which he wanted to use in a sketch. He offered to exchange the pants with the farmer on the spot with $4 thrown in.

The farmer was sceptical and demanded $4 in advance. Rockwell complied, and the two solemnly exchanged garments under a tree.

Saturday Evening Post Front Page
Saturday Evening Post Front Page

Rockwell's subjects probably portray America's "common man" better than those of any other artist. He paints pictures which makes us see ourselves as we are and be able to laugh about it. He is no modernist; he has no "social significance" demanding to be recognised.

He was once urged to "go modern", and he did a stint of study in Paris. But his editor was disappointed with the results so ended what he called his "James Joyce-Gertrude Stein period."

Gained Necessary Weight

When World War 1 came along, Rockwell tried to enlist but was found eight pounds underweight. He quickly at a considerable amount of bananas and doughnuts and drank quantities of warm water, went back the next day and was accepted.

He was young and eager for action, but when the officers learned of his talent, they made him a third-class varnisher and painter! He later accepted an inadaptability discharge which one officer told him meant that he was "too stupid to perform his duties."

Besides his magazine work, Rockwell has also done a few book illustrations, murals and other work in a series. His Four Freedom series is well-known.

He was born and reared on Manhattan's West Side. He remained single for many years, but once during a vacation in California, he met Mary Barstow, whom he married in three weeks. She has been a tremendous steadying influence in his life and often reads to him while working.

She also makes him feel less like a "palooka." They have three children whom he has often painted.

He used to sign his drawings Norman P. Rockwell, but he once explained that the P, stands for Percy, "so you can see why I dropped it."

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