Norman Rockwell, My Grandmother, My Dad, and Me

Norman Rockwell had a profound influence on my life.  Thank goodness he still does.  It all started with my grandmother, Nan.  She was the salt of the earth, strong and loving, and lived her childhood much like Little House on the Prairie.  I spent every Sunday afternoon with her growing up.

Nan told stories of her childhood, living in a log house in West Virginia.  She took us to the five and dime to spend a nickel on anything we wanted.  She let us dress up in her clothes, and she taught my sister how to sew.

She didn’t have many books, but she did have a big book of Norman Rockwell illustrations.  I loved that book.  I looked at it every Sunday.  There was always something new to see.  I remember asking questions and just talking about the illustrations.  That was the best part.  It was real life.  There was much to learn.  It was my Sunday ritual with Nan.

As soon as my husband and I married and set up our new house, I went to the bookstore to find that Norman Rockwell book.  That had to be part of our life.

The following Christmas I bought the Norman Rockwell Christmas Book.  At last I felt complete.

When children came along, we spent much time reading stories and looking at the illustrations.  Our son was particularly fond of the books.  I remember sitting together on the couch looking through the illustrations with him.  When he married, our first gift to him and his new wife was that Norman Rockwell book.

In the early eighties, we moved to Massachusetts.  What a thrill it was to visit the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.  First it was in his original home on Main Street, and years later a big new museum was built.  I was beside myself with excitement at the prospect of seeing these paintings.  The real deal.  “The Four Freedoms” are enormous.  I had no idea.  Each one is nearly four feet tall and three feet wide.  Standing by these paintings is a humbling experience.

By contrast, “Main Street” (my favorite) is small, only ten inches wide and thirty inches long.

My Dad and I went to the museum together.  What a joy.  I had no idea he loved Norman Rockwell.  That day opened a whole new chapter for us.  He was one of the Greatest Generation.  While he did not fight in WWII, he was the link for me.  We loved watching war movies on TV.  I attribute much of my patriotism to him.  I teach my preschool class about patriotism in many ways- from the American flag, to songs, to making quilts, to thanking soldiers, to writing to pen-pals, to sending care packages overseas.  It’s wonderful.

What does this have to do with Norman Rockwell?  He was instrumental in inspiring patriotism through his illustrations.  I didn’t learn this until much later, after my Dad had died.  Fellow blogger GP Cox at http://pacific wrote an excellent post last October 17th on Norman Rockwell and how his illustrations helped the war effort.

I was bowled over at the recent edition of Military Officer magazine.  Right on the cover was an illustration I had never seen.  I thought I had seen them all.  Boy, was I wrong.  When the magazine arrived, I was once again a little girl, sitting with Nan on a Sunday, looking at a new Norman Rockwell illustration.

The magazine had more, much more, including one that GP Cox featured in his blog post.  I love this illustration.  A picture is worth a thousand words, and every character and artifact here has a story to tell.  I fly that blue star flag, too.

Rosie the Riveter and Willie Gillis became famous icons, thanks to Norman Rockwell.  Yet, his most memorable illustrations are those of everyday life, like “Home for Thanksgiving”.  Just look into the eyes of that mother.  He captured our deepest feelings, beautifully and subtlety.

I asked my Dad his favorite.  It was  “Saying Grace.”  Nan would have liked that.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in America, art, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Giving thanks, Inspiration, military, museums, patriotism, The Arts and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

82 Responses to Norman Rockwell, My Grandmother, My Dad, and Me

  1. Annika Perry says:

    Jenniw, wow! 😀 A beautiful post in tribute to Norman Rockwell – an artist I know barely anything about but I’m now intrigued and want to know more.

    I love how this artist and his books are such a special connectioins for your family across the generations. Your Sunday afternoons with your grandmother sound so special – memories to treasure … and how wonderful you recreated these moments with your own children!

  2. Ritu says:

    What lovely memories to treasure, and such a great find in that magazine!

  3. quiall says:

    His gifts remind us of a simpler time. Truth, honesty, compassion were a way of life. That time may only have existed in his illustrations but it inspires us.

  4. beetleypete says:

    Rockwell seemed to stand for everything that was good about America at a time in history. His paintings have that ‘photographic’ quality too, something that makes them accessible to anyone.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  5. joylennick says:

    What a great tribute to Norman Rockwell, Jennie. And how heart-warming to have it linked to your grandmother and early and more recent memories In my teens – years ago – in the UK, I often admired Rockwell’s work in the US magazines I used to buy. A wonderful artist..

  6. I love the Main Street print too. If you saw my house you’d see why. I love houses, villages, and have several prints of houses and villages, and miniatures too.
    What great treasures those books are, and the wonderful memories you have of your Nan, and Father through them.

    • Jennie says:

      That is just wonderful, Deborah! I’m so glad you love that Rockwell print, too. The books and the memories are treasures for me. I dearly love his art. I also think he helped me become a better teacher, because I understood people, empathy, humor…all the important things he painted.

  7. Dan Antion says:

    What a wonderful post, Jennie. Those prints captured an America that seems so distant today, yet I think the underlying spirit is still there. Stories like yours bring it closer to the surface. Thanks for sharing your connection to a great artist and illustrator.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Dan. You described his work and also America beautifully. I feel the same way, the spirit is there. It is seen in everyday moments, just like what Rockwell always saw and painted. I am proud to be a champion for bringing that spirit to people and readers. I’m lucky that Norman Rockwell has been a strong influence since I was a child.

  8. Darlene says:

    What precious memories of your grandmother. Books have such a great way of connecting us to the past and to people. Norman Rockwell certainly captured the essence of America in his time.

  9. Opher says:

    Excellent Jennie. I’ve never heard of him but I’ll check him out – even though patriotism isn’t something I like.

    • Jennie says:

      Opher, his art was about the everyday person, life in the smallest moments that made people smile and understand. I only learned about the patriotic illustrations, a small yet wonderful part of his work. Check him out. His voice was as strong as Guthrie and Dylan. He was the one who painted the famous painting of the black child walking to school accompanied by officers when schools were desegregated. There is a less famous one of a black family moving into the neighborhood and the kids in the neighborhood looking on. He paints the words you write.

  10. Karen Papineau says:

    Jennie, great post(as always!). Did you get a chance to see our current exhibition based on Rockwell’s Four Freedoms? Closes Sunday – interesting and different type of show, hope you can come up!

  11. joylennick says:

    A great tribute to Norman Rockwell, Jennie. As a teenager in the UK, I used to read a lot of American magazines, especially crime and fashion, and often saw and admired Norman’s fabulous paintings. What a treat that they linked in so well with your early memories and grandmother, and your children.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Joy. He was the cover for The Saturday Evening Post and Look magazine for years. How wonderful that you saw his art when you were in the UK. Rockwell linked everything from my childhood to now. It is a wonderful thing.

  12. GP Cox says:

    I am thrilled I was able to help bring new joy to you about an old memory, Jennie!
    Keep up the great work you do with our up and coming generation!!

    • Jennie says:

      I am more thrilled than you are, GP. You’re the best. Thank you! My old and wonderful memories of Norman Rockwell keep growing. I will keep up my work with our up and coming generation.

  13. I enjoyed this post, Jennie, even though I’ve not seen many Norman Rockwell illustrations.

  14. petespringerauthor says:

    Great topic today, Jennie! I enjoyed your entire piece, but especially your recollections of your grandmother. I discovered another similarity between us today, too. We used to say the pledge each day in my class, and once a week, the flag salute leader (Always one of the children holding up a small flag) would pick a patriotic song for us to sing. My favorite part was when I saw sixth graders, who sometimes thought they were too cool to do something like this, joining in.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Pete. I love your story of the flag salute leader. Those rituals in school were important. I’m glad you enjoyed my grandmother story. She was wonderful. Thank goodness she had that Norman Rockwell book!

  15. As a kid, I loved Norman Rockwell. He said so much with his art. Thanks for relighting some memories, Jennie.

  16. I also love Norman Rockwell, Jennie, and have several books of his photos, including the Christmas title in your post. Growing up, I thought of my life as much like a Norman Rockwell illustration…until it wasn’t. Maybe that’s why I still love his work:)

    • Jennie says:

      I know what you mean. Even when life isn’t like a Rockwell moment, those images stick with me. It’s like a bandaid on a boo-boo. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Becky. Thank you.

  17. I was just thinking about Norman Rockwell! I loved his paintings when I was a little – my parents had a book of them too, but like you, I haven’t seen all of them. This post inspired me to look them up again. Thank you!

    • Jennie says:

      How wonderful! I’m glad you had a Norman Rockwell book, too. I hope you find some new ones. You will probably feel like you did when you were little. Thank you, Melinda!

  18. A wonderful tribute to Norman Rockwell–a beloved artist whose memory lives on… How lovely that Rockwell is part of your family traditions!

  19. jilldennison says:

    What a beautiful story about you and your grandmother! And an all-round beautiful post, my friend! Though I’ve never paid much attention to Rockwell, being more of a fan of the French Impressionists, I have seen enough of his work to know it was, indeed, a portrait of everyday life in the U.S.

  20. Elizabeth says:

    I loved visiting Stockbridge, especially seeing his studio. The print I have framed is of Ruby Bridges walking to school surrounded by guards and being assaulted with tomatoes. What a brave little girl.

  21. This is a marvelous post about Rockwell, Jennie. You brought out how his work became a part of your life in a wonderful engaging way. Hugs on the wing.

  22. Your post moved me as did Rockwell’s art. He always had a special place in my heart with those warm scenes of cozy life and people caring for one another. You FEEL something when you see one of his paintings. Just like when I read your posts. Thanks for the reminder of how much I love his work.

  23. what sweet memories of you and Nan-what she left you was gold, really. Main Street is my favorite too.

  24. GP Cox says:

    You and I were just talking about Rockwell – and then I am going through an old Smithsonian magazine and low and behold there is a picture of a Rockwell, ‘A Family Tree’, that I do not ever recall seeing before. Was this painting in the museum? This cover took longer to paint than any other, months before he was happy with it.

    • Jennie says:

      I know that painting! It was the pirate that took him so long to research and finish the painting. I do not remember seeing it at the museum, but remember I was overwhelmed at seeing a lifetime of paintings I had admired, all at once. I will be visiting again this spring with my sister. This museum has so much!

  25. Lovely tribute and heartfelt recollections of a great man who silently had a big impact on Americans with his drawings.

  26. Kally says:

    Great write up on Norman. I don’t know him well but I’m going to read up more on him.

  27. Thank you for this very informative post, Jennie! Remember Norman Rockwell by the post of GP. Your childhood was great, and i think one need this too, becoming a really wonderful teacher. Michael

  28. A lovely post, Jennie. I love these pictures.

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