By Keith O’Connor, “Springfield Republican,” December 18, 2010

"Home for Christmas," Norman Rockwell, 1955.

"Home for Christmas," Norman Rockwell, 1955. Oil on canvas. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections, gift of Sheaffer-Eaton Illustration for Sheaffer Pen Company advertisement. ©NRELC, Niles, IL.

America’s most beloved illustrator, Norman Rockwell, is as synonymous with the holidays as Santa Claus himself.

Not only did he create dozens of illustrations of the jolly ol’ elf in the red suit, Rockwell is known for depicting endless scenes that capture the essence of American holiday traditions from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year’s, including his classic “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas.”

All three celebrations are represented in a special exhibition, “Home for the Holidays,” on view now at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge which looks at the artist’s holiday illustrations eagerly awaited by the public for over six decades.
“All are original illustrations, including many pieces of preliminary work he did for Hallmark,” said Corry Kanzenberg, curator of archival collections at the museum.

The artist’s connection to holiday-inspired art can be traced to his youth, when at the age of 15, a parishioner of his family’s church employed his talents for Christmas card designs. As an adult, Rockwell would become a fixture at Hallmark, the greeting card company that continues to market his holiday illustrations. The Saturday Evening Post typically delegated Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s covers to its most talented and popular illustrators, including Rockwell.

“Although Thanksgiving has already gone by, one of the paintings on display depicts a mother and son peeling potatoes together in their kitchen for the holiday. It’s one of several homecoming images created by Rockwell of American veterans during World War II,” said Kanzenberg about the oil on canvas that ran on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on Nov. 24, 1945.

One of the many images of Christmas on display includes an oil on canvas from a private collection entitled “Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit.” It was a cover illustration that ran on The Saturday Evening Post on Dec. 15, 1934.

“It’s one of Rockwell’s many illustrations inspired by Charles Dickens. He often liked to talk about how his dad read Dickens’ tales to him and his brother after they had finished their schoolwork,” said Kanzenberg.

Yet another Saturday Evening Post cover depicted in the exhibition ran on Dec. 19, 1945 just in time for New Year’s Day.

“What we have on display is a very large preliminary drawing for the cover which is actually set in the Wedgwood room of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. To select the Wedgwood room at the hotel, one of the most expensive places to celebrate New Year’s Eve, shows you just how much Rockwell was in tune with the American culture,” said Kanzenberg.

She said the cover art, entitled “Happy New Year,” depicted “a waiter asleep, the sun rising in the background through the windows, and a party that was obviously over.” However, the version on display features empty champagne bottles and silver buckets left over from the previous night’s celebration. Editors had them removed before the artwork graced the magazine’s cover because they disapproved of covers which alluded to the consumption of alcohol.

While the nostalgic “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas” – which appeared as a three-page foldout in the December 1967 issue of McCalls – is not part of the special holiday exhibition, it is on view in the museum’s permanent display space.

“It’s one of the most popular in the collection and has really come to symbolize Christmas in America, which is what he intended,” said Kanzenberg.

“Something of interest is that Rockwell actually hoped editors would identify the town in his illustration as Stockbridge, which they did within text in the magazine,” she added.

As for those wondering about Rockwell and his own celebration of the holidays, visitors will learn at the exhibition that he often told reporters he usually would take a half-day off from work on Christmas, despite his busy schedule. Not overly sentimental about the holidays, he viewed turkey carving as “a challenge rather than an invitation,” and once remarked, “I’ve never played Santa Claus in my life. I wouldn’t dare to.”

“Home for the Holidays” will remain on view at the museum through Jan. 16.

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