• To compare the lifestyle changes between then and now


  • To write descriptions of the people and places evident in the paintings
  • Show students prints of Rockwell illustrations that depict American life in the 20th century.
  • Discuss how NR would use his friends and neighbors to model for him.
  • Discuss the kinds of inferences that can be drawn from the details Rockwell painted. Often a “detail detective” approach works well — ask the detectives to search for clues.


  • Writing paper
  • Rockwell prints/postcards

Explores how Norman Rockwell’s illustrations tell a story of America and Americans that reflects small towns and rural society made up of ordinary people doing ordinary things.

Norman Rockwell painted scenes of small town America throughout his career. He used his friends and neighbors as models for the characters he portrayed, and took his characters from everyday life. These pictures reflect the times in which they are painted. There are clues in the details that tell us a great deal about the characters, the place, and the time in which they lived. Comparing our observations about the past with what we know of society today, we can discover evolving trends.



Divide students into teams of two or three, and distribute the postcards from this kit. Students will write descriptions of the scene, and will address the following:

  • What is happening in this scene?
  • What can you tell about the setting and the time period from the clues NR painted into the picture?
  • Describe the inferences you can make on American life in this time. How are things different than today?
  • What changes would have to be made to the illustration to reflect life today?

Have each group write their answers to the questions above, and share their picture and the observations they have made with the class.

Grades K-3:

Instead of working more independently in small groups, use a large sized print and the whole class all at once on one image. Try some of the posing suggestions below if you think it appropriate for your group. Try to bring the experience around to something they have experienced in their own lives — Have you ever been in this kind of situation? when? What happened to you ? How did it make you feel? etc.

Grades 4-6:

Have the students write questions they would like to ask the characters.

Try posing some members of the group in the pose of the characters in the pictures. Ask them how sitting like that (standing, looking, etc.) makes them feel.

When asked how would this pose have to change to reflect life today, have the students act out the new pose and describe the difference in how they feel in the new pose compared to how they felt in the previous pose.

Grades 7 & up:

Have students interview someone who lived during the same time period as the picture. Write up the interview and compare that with what the students had written in class. How accurate were they in their guesses? How were their impressions different from those of the person interviewed?


Make a display to show the pictures and the written work done by the students. Or, have some of the writing copied into a newsletter format and distributed around the school.

Norman Rockwell


Born in New York City in 1894, Norman Percevel Rockwell’s greatest desire from an early age was to be an illustrator. In 1909, at the age of 15, he left high school to begin his studies at the National Academy of Design and, later, the Art Students League. There he worked under George Bridgman who taught a rigorous series of technical skills that Rockwell relied on throughout his long career.

Rockwell found success early. He painted his first commission, four Christmas cards, before his sixteenth birthday. While still in his teens, Rockwell was hired as art director for Boys’ Life magazine and began a successful freelance career working for a variety of young people’s publications.

At the age of 21, Rockwell moved to New Rochelle, New York, a community that housed a sizable colony of successful illustrators including the Leyendecker brothers, Coles Phillips and Howard Chandler Christy. There, Rockwell set up a studio with cartoonist Clyde Forsythe. During this period of his career, Rockwell produced work for such well-known magazines as Life, Literary Digest and Country Gentleman. In 1916, at the age of 22, Rockwell’s first cover for The Saturday Evening Post appeared, a commission then considered to be the pinnacle of achievement for an illustrator. Over the next 47 years, Rockwell produced 322 covers for the Post. In 1916, he married Irene O’Connor, a marriage that ended in divorce in 1930.

In 1930, he married Mary Barstow. They had three sons: Jarvis, Thomas and Peter. The family moved to Arlington, Vermont in 1939.

In 1943, while still in Arlington, Rockwell created a series of paintings based on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s concept of the Four Freedoms. The paintings were reproduced in The Saturday Evening Post alongside essays by famous thinkers of the day. The series was enormously popular and ultimately toured the United States in an exhibition sponsored by the Post and the Treasury Department. At each of the sixteen cities in the tour, war bonds were sold. The exhibition raised more than $130 million for the war effort, primarily in small denomination bonds.

The Rockwell family moved from West Arlington to Stockbridge, Massachusetts in 1953. Six years later, Mary Barstow Rockwell died. My Adventures as an Illustrator, a work Rockwell wrote in collaboration with his son, Tom, was published in 1960. The Saturday Evening Post excerpted portions of the book in a series of articles, one of which featured the famous Triple Self-Portrait.

Rockwell’s third marriage took place in 1961 to Mary (Molly) Punderson. Two years later, Rockwell ended his long association with The Saturday Evening Post. In 1964, his first Look magazine illustrations appeared. The eight-year association with Look allowed Rockwell to paint pictures illustrating some of his deepest concerns, including the civil rights movement and the war on poverty.

In 1973, Rockwell established a trust to preserve his artistic legacy and placed it under the custodianship of the Old Corner House in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. This trust forms the core of the permanent collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge. In 1976, Rockwell placed his Stockbridge studio and all its contents in trust to the museum. The next year, Rockwell was presented with perhaps his highest honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for his “vivid and affectionate portraits of our country.”

He died peacefully at home in Stockbridge on November 8, 1978.

Annotated Bibliography

These books are recommended for students and teachers to use to learn more about Norman Rockwell and his work. They are usually available in most public libraries, or may be purchased through museum customer service by calling (800)- 742-9450.