Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving in America. This is meant to be a day of thanks for the blessings we’ve enjoyed for the last year but it’s more a day of food and football. Tomorrow, as folks will spend the day buying a bunch of stuff they probably don’t need and can’t afford.

A Norman Rockwell painting we are not.

This painting is called “Home For Thanksgiving.” It was featured on the November 24, 1945 cover of The Saturday Evening Post. That was 77 years ago today.

The young man and his mother were real people. He was freshly home from the war and helping his mother with chores he likely would have hated doing in the Army Air Corps. Kitchen Patrol or KP duty probably didn’t seem so bad in the warmth of his mama’s kitchen.

Rockwell paid them each $15 to sit for the portrait. I read once that they owned the local dairy in their Vermont small town and that the young man was Rockwell’s milkman.

This painting was donated to the Eugene M. Connor Post 193 of the American Legion in Massachusetts many years ago. But they didn’t know it was an original and left it hanging in a hallway for decades. When someone offered $500 for what the Legion thought was a print, they took it to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Massachusetts for appraisal.

After learning they owned an American treasure, they loaned it to the museum for display and safekeeping.

Just last year, the Legion sold it at auction for $4.3 million. This hefty sum went into a trust and interest earned will help pay bills and fund future repairs for the Legion.

It’s a beautiful slice of Americana and I like how it illustrates a nation transitioning from wartime into peacetime. Something so everyday like peeling potatoes probably felt almost luxurious to the soldier and his mother who had suffered untold sleepless nights in his absence.

Her relief is palpable.

Gratitude would have been the only thing that mattered in many households across the nation that Thanksgiving. Our soldiers were headed home. Life was returning to a new normal. Life was good.

Wherever you are in this world today, I hope life is good. Happy Thanksgiving!

Norman Rockwell Traveling Exhibit

The art of Norman Rockwell has been part of the national conversation for over a hundred years. There’s something about his work that is so easily recognizable you can spot it from across a room or with a simple glance.

Yesterday, I journeyed up to Lithopolis, Ohio to view a traveling exhibit called “Norman Rockwell in the 1940s: A View of the American Homefront.” It’s on display at the Wagnalls Memorial Library and is available for viewing on select days through this month.

It’s on loan from the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockwell, Massachusetts which is home to the world’s most significant collection of Rockwell’s work.

This isn’t a large collection but it is powerful and well worth a stop if you’re in the area.

You’ll find his most famous works – the Four Freedoms which depict freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech and freedom of worship. These are some of the most reproduced works in the world.

There are also patriotic works depicting Rosie the Riveter and life on the home front. In 1945, this cover depicted a young soldier, home from war and happily helping his mother peel potatoes.

Look closely.

This is an illustration, not a photo. However, it looks so realistic you almost expect the woman to turn and smile at you.

Look at the veins in her hands, the lines on her face. The expression of joy and relief is mixed with something else. Maybe a little disbelief that her son is home. Maybe a little wonder at how much he has changed. It’s truly a lovely moment and one so skillfully illustrated that it draws the viewer right in.

Another depicts a sailor home on leave while yet another depicts a young soldier returning home to a tenement. You have to wonder how many young men left less than ideal circumstances at home and found a better life trajectory because of the war.

There are some fun pieces too including a tattoo artist crossing out women’s names on a man’s bicep. There are a couple of April Fool’s covers that are much like an Easter egg hunt to find the things that are off. How many things can you find wrong with this cover?

In all, it’s a nice collection.

I have read that artists and critics of his age didn’t take his work seriously. It is often sweet and sometimes sentimental. It is sometimes a bit idealistic but I like to think Rockwell’s work reflects the values of another time while preserving threads of humanity that we all can still relate to some eighty years later.

He created 4,000 pieces of artwork in his lifetime. There’s something very smart about his work and something practical in that sensible New England kind of way. I think that Rockwell could see the world for what it was but sometimes chose to show his audiences the world as he wished it to be.

Despite what the critics said, he must have done something right. After all, we’re still talking about him.

Go if you get a chance. It’s free but only open during certain hours Thursday and Saturday through June 30. Get more info by clicking here. If you go, be sure to explore this magnificent library and view the two original Norman Rockwell pieces in their permanent collection.

This library is amazing so check back to see imagery and to read a little story about it this week.