Natural-Born Talent

Norman Rockwell with model Franklin Lischke and dog. Photographer unknown. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. All rights reserved.

Norman Rockwell with model Franklin Lischke and dog. Photographer unknown. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. All rights reserved.

This Tuesday, February 3rd marks Norman Rockwell’s 121st birthday, and he’s more popular than ever!

Join us Tuesday at Norman Rockwell Museum as we celebrate the artist’s life and work—our Curator of Education, Tom Daly will discuss highlights from each decade of Rockwell’s legendary career, with birthday cake to follow.

Born in New York City in 1894, Norman Percevel Rockwell always wanted to be an artist. At the age of 14, Rockwell enrolled in art classes at the New York School of Art. In 1910, at the age of 16, he left high school to study at the National Academy of Design. He soon transferred to the Arts Student League, where he studied with such influential teachers as Thomas Fogarty and George Bridgman.

Howard Hill (1822-1888) painting

Painting by Howard Hill (1822-1888), oil on panel, 11 1/2” x 9 3/4”. Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections.

But what about Rockwell’s own family background? Could he possibly have inherited his artistic talent? His maternal grandfather, Howard Hill (1823-1888), was a struggling artist from England, who may have worked as a painter for Currier and Ives, according to Rockwell’s autobiography, My Adventures as an Illustrator. In Rockwell’s words, “

[he] came to America sometime after the Civil War. he hoped to open a studio as a portrait and landscape painter. Instead he fathered twelve children and became a painter of animals, potboilers, and houses.” Known for his sporting paintings, one of Hill’s paintings eventually hung in his famous grandson’s studio (and is now part of the Museum’s permanent collection).

Elsewhere in his autobiography, Rockwell remembers his father, Jarvis Waring Rockwell (1867-1931), who worked in the textile business, copying drawings from magazines in his spare time. Although never close, the artist fondly recalls the memory of his parents reading him the stories of Charles Dickens, which made an obvious impact on his later work as an illustrator (view a collection of Rockwell’s Dickens-inspired images, on view at the Museum through February 8).

Norman Rockwell passed away in 1978, leaving behind a huge artistic legacy. His sons Jarvis, Thomas, and Peter, have also gone on to pursue successful artistic careers, as have his own grandchildren, keeping alive the Rockwell family’s creative tradition.

Norman Rockwell and family, 1911.

Norman Rockwell and family, 1911. Photographer unknown. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. All rights reserved.

Related Links

“Amazing Stories Behind Norman Rockwell’s Illustrations,” Biography.com

Norman Rockwell’s Biography

Son/Artist Jarvis Rockwell’s Facebook page

Son/Artist Peter Rockwell’s website

Buy Norman Rockwell’s My Adventures as an Illustrator (co-written by son Tom) on sale in our Museum Store 

Don’t Miss our Traveling Exhibition, American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell, on view at Italy’s Fondiazone Roma Museuo through February 8, 2015

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