Most of what inhabits my wallet is transitory, but one item has stood the test of time: my laminated tip calculation table, compliments of PIP Printing, that I picked up in high school. Tipping is tough for the mathematically challenged, and this handy reference tool continues to serve me well.
I thought about my trusty tipping table when I saw Boy in a Dining Car, Norman Rockwell’s image on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post’s December 7, 1946 issue. The cover is one of 100 Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover illustrations featured in Norman Rockwell: The Man Behind the Canvas, on view at the Springfield Museum of Art through December 31, 2016.
The exhibition reveals some fascinating details about Rockwell, his inspiration for several of the covers, and what was involved in creating them.
From 1916 until 1963, Rockwell created over 300 covers for the Saturday Evening Post. The cover of each magazine issue was designed to be a standalone work of art, a story in itself that was unrelated to the stories inside, and Rockwell delivered. He connected with readers by portraying familiar, ordinary moments of daily American life, giving them significance by emphasizing the important themes they convey. They continue to resonate.
The exhibition reveals how exacting Rockwell was in executing his covers. He conceived the idea for his subject; obtained approval from his art director; found models, mostly among his neighbors; tracked down props; and staged scenes. He worked with his subjects to capture just the right poses and facial expressions. He hired a photographer to take hundreds of pictures so that he could examine his subject from many angles. And then he went to work, capturing the scene first with a charcoal sketch and then in paint, rendering it in incredible detail.
For example, Rockwell used a dining car from the New York Central’s Lake Shore Limited as the setting for his depiction of a boy’s first experience calculating a waiter’s tip. His 10-year-old son, Peter, and a 28-year-veteran waiter served as his models. Over 70 photographs were taken during the model shoot, from which Rockwell worked to create his painting. According to the accompanying caption, Peter remembered that his father finally got him to pose by promising to take him to FAO Schwartz and buy him anything he wanted if he would just calm down, pose and stop complaining about how hot it was that day.
Other discoveries about Rockwell include his fascination with 17th-century Dutch painters, evident in how closely the interior of the 1955 painting of an actual engaged couple, The Marriage License, is fashioned after one painted by Johannes Vermeer. It also presents how he respected modern art, painting The Connoisseur (the cover of the January 13, 1962 Post) as a tribute to drip painter Jackson Pollock.
Many perennial Rockwell favorites are here, such as his clever April-Fool covers; Saying Grace (November 24, 1951), inspired by an actual scene a woman observed in a Philadelphia automat; and Happy Birthday Miss Jones (March 17, 1956), capturing a classroom scene in which the expressions on the students’ faces are imagined through the teacher’s reaction to them.
The exhibit also includes 100 photographs of Rockwell that were taken by his assistant, Louis Lamone. From candid shots of him working in his notably tidy studio to breaking in shoes for a White House dinner with President Eisenhower in 1955, the photos capture the lanky painter’s charming devotion to his craft.
Original drawings and manuscripts are included in the exhibit, including Rockwell family Christmas cards and typewritten recipes for Rockwell’s favorite orange nut bread and oatmeal cookies made by his longtime cook, Nellie Srodulski.
For more on Norman Rockwell, see Norman Rockwell’s World: An American Dream, narrated by Rockwell and winner of the 1973 Academy Award for Best Short Subject; The Advertising World of Norman Rockwell, by Donald Robert Stoltz, Marshall Louis Stoltz and William B. Earle; Norman Rockwell, by Karal Ann Marling; American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell, by Deborah Solomon; Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, by Virginia M. Mecklenburg; Norman Rockwell: A Life, by Laura Claridge; Norman Rockwell: Storyteller with a Brush, by Beverly Gherman; Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People, by Maureen Hart Hennessey and Anne Knutson; and Rockwell’s autobiography, My Adventures as an Illustrator. Willie Was Different is a children’s story on which Rockwell collaborated with his third wife, Molly Punderson.