Spring Awakening

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), "First Signs of Spring," 1947

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “First Signs of Spring,” 1947. Oil on canvas, 22″ x 17″. Cover illustration for “The Saturday Evening Post,” March 22, 1947. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections, gift of Ginny Severinghaus in memory of Nelson “Ben” Severinghaus. ©SEPS: Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN.

Spring begins—and not a moment too soon. After a frequently harsh winter here in the Northeast (and apparently across the country), most of us are looking forward to enjoying some more pleasant temperatures.

You can already feel the warmth in our Museum galleries, courtesy of the recent donation of Norman Rockwell’s 1947 painting First Signs of Spring, which is currently on view. Generously donated by Ginny Severinghaus of Nashville, in honor of her late husband Nelson ‘Ben’ Severinghaus, the humorous work was originally created for the March 22, 1947 cover of The Saturday Evening Post.

Rockwell’s Post covers were generally executed months in advance of their publication dates. For the crocuses in First Signs of Spring, the artist wanted real flowers for his models, but since work on the illustration was completed in winter’s coldest months, finding live crocuses proved to be a difficult undertaking. Numerous calls were placed to New England greenhouses, but no local florist stocked crocuses in winter. Rockwell eventually procured a New York City shopkeeper who specialized in out-of-season flowers, and the blooms were delivered to his Vermont home for a fee of fifteen dollars and fifty cents.

The model for First Signs of Spring was Gene Pelham, an artist in his own right, who served as Rockwell’s photographer during the years he lived in Arlington, Vermont. As detailed in the book/exhibition, Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, Pelham was a young illustrator and had earlier posed for Rockwell during his years in New Rochelle. The artist was thrilled to find Pelham living in Vermont when he and his family arrived in 1939, and soon hired him as an assistant. In addition to his artistic eye and photographic skills, Pelham also built props, prepared canvases, wrangled models, and was himself an expressive model (you can also see him as the cigar-chomping spectator in Rockwell’s dramatic 1941 painting, Strictly a Sharpshooter, which is also currently on view).

Taking care of some “spring cleaning,” we are busy changing over our galleries to install new Rockwell and illustration art in the months ahead—we look forward to seeing you this season at Norman Rockwell Museum.

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), "Springtime in Stockbridge," 1971

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “Springtime in Stockbridge,” 1971. Oil on canvas, 32″ x 68″. Illustration for “Norman Rockwell’s 78th Spring,” “Look” magazine, June 1, 1971. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. ©Norman Rockwell Family Agency. All rights reserved. 

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