“Aunt Ella was beautiful in my eyes. Not too tall, and a lovely plump front,” read the caption with this Norman Rockwell illustration in Ladies’ Home Journal. Aunt Ella’s niece, Liz’beth, continues her story, “You knew, somehow, that she had grown up on sunshine and good times and lots of Irish loving. She had just the right plumpness, with dimples in her elbows and cheeks, a clear, pink complexion and auburn hair.” From this description, Rockwell created Aunt Ella’s image for the 1942 story by Marcelene Cox. Childless, Aunt Ella is determined to see that Liz’beth’s sister Mary gets for her graduation the beautiful dress her parents cannot afford. Driven to subterfuge by her stingy husband’s disapproval of charity, Aunt Ella discretely drives horse and buggy to town to sell some grain to buy fabric for the new dress. Rockwell illustrates their return from town, after which they will hide horse and buggy tracks and wipe down Nell, the horse, to hide any evidence of their clandestine trip.
He also illustrates the complex emotions Aunt Ella and Liz’beth feel. This is what Rockwell does best─express emotions and even thoughts, through subtle nuances of facial expression and body language. Aunt Ella’s face and bearing are strong and resolute. She has stood on principle and opposed her husband’s wishes, but she will spare their relationship the stress and discord that would result from discovery of her actions. The urgency of returning to the farm to conceal her activities and quickly perform a full day’s chores can be felt within the calm serenity of the summer day. Liz’beth’s demeanor expresses happiness at their accomplishment─and perhaps thoughts of how her sister will look in her new dress.
Story illustration for Ladies’ Home Journal, April 1942
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection