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The Repository Blogs

A Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving
Monday, November 13, 2006
Linda Rosenkrantz
Copley News Service


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Like a "Hallmark" Christmas, a "Norman Rockwell" Thanksgiving conjures up images of family togetherness, peace and plenty. The scene drawn by America's leading commercial artist to illustrate one of President Roosevelt's Four Freedoms, "Freedom from Want" depicted an older couple placing a fat turkey on a table surrounded by their eager, smiling family.

Painted in 1943 in the throes of World War II, it presented an idyllic image of the kind of unity and abundance projected for the post-war future - an image that would endure and be reproduced endlessly.

The Four Freedoms paintings were inspired by some celebrated remarks made in the president's State of the Union address to the 77th Congress on Jan. 6, 1941, in which he said, "We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms" people everywhere in the world ought to enjoy - namely freedom of speech and expression, freedom of every person to worship God in his own way, freedom from want and freedom from fear. The four Rockwell paintings they inspired were published in The Saturday Evening Post in February and March of 1943, accompanied by essays on each of the freedoms.

After their publication, the Office of War decided to tour the original paintings around the country to help sell war bonds. Over the next few weeks, they were seen by 1,222,000 people and were instrumental in raising more than $132 million in sales of war bonds, and were also reproduced as U.S. postage stamps.

Norman Rockwell was born in New York on Feb. 3, 1894, studying in that city's Chase Art School, the National Academy of Design and the Arts Students League. Firmly focused on an art career from a young age, he began having drawings published in Boys' Life magazine while he was still a student, and soon became art director of that publication.

At the time, getting a cover on the Saturday Evening Post was the aspiration of every commercial artist, and Rockwell was no exception. His goal was achieved in 1916 when he went to Philadelphia to show his work to the editor, who immediately accepted two covers and commissioned an additional three, thus initiating a relationship that was to last almost a half-century, ending in 1963, when the Post stopped using paintings on its covers.

Rockwell's enormous appeal derives from his enormous technical skill - his original canvases are being increasingly appreciated, with prices rising accordingly - but also from his warm, highly detailed depictions of 50 years of American life, both the milestones and the mundane, ranging from a 1918 depiction of a mother holding back tears as her son gets his first barbershop haircut, to a famous 1945 GI homecoming scene, to several JFK portraits in the 1960s.

Rockwell's idealized Thanksgiving scene became a ubiquitous image, seen in a wide variety of formats, all accessible to the collector. First of all, there are the original Government Printing Office posters of the Four Freedoms, measuring 28 by 20 inches, and the U.S. Post Office postage stamps.

In addition, there is a set of bas-relief copper plaques mounted on wooden boards that were awarded by the Post's publisher to schools selling large numbers of savings bonds; a set of 3-inch coffee tins and another 6-inch tin with the words "Saturday Evening Post, March 6, 1943;" a 750-piece panoramic jigsaw puzzle of the Four Freedoms; a 1976 Danbury Mint dinner bell; a limited-edition, 10-inch plate made by Gorham the same year; a 1983 brown transferware "Freedom from Want" pie plate with the legend "The Warmest of Holiday Traditions;" and a series of Four Freedoms place mats. And yes, you can even find a Norman Rockwell "Freedom from Want" T-shirt.

Linda Rosenkrantz has edited Auction magazine and authored 15 books, including "Beyond Jennifer & Jason, Madison & Montana: What to Name Your Baby Now" (St. Martin's Press; $13). She cannot answer letters personally.

© Copley News Service

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