After procrastinating for most of the summer, I finally got to the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Mystic Museum of Art in Mystic, Connecticut. “Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post Covers: Tell Me a Story” was created by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachuesetts. Rockwell (1894–1978) did a lot of covers for the Post—323, to be exact. He depicted a sleigh-full of rosy-cheeked Santas, dozens and dozens of baseball scenes featuring earnest young boys as well as grizzled old umpires, plenty of small-town New England street fronts and storefronts, and a number of courting scenes, or what Rockwell called “spooning.” Also, there are a surprising number of pirates and several kennels’ worth of dogs.
As the exhibit’s explanatory commentary reminds us, Rockwell’s work “celebrates the extraordinary of the commonplace.” Of course, he was famous for using neighbors from his small Vermont village and his subsequent home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, as models for his paintings. I’ve lived for most of my life in New England, and I’m a pushover for Rockwell’s brilliantly drawn and painted “narratives.” Even his critics concede that he was a master draftsman. The drawings and paintings really do draw you imaginatively into the lives of the figures on the canvas, and often do so with a mischievous, if sometimes corny, sense of humor. Yes, his illustrations and paintings are celebrations of an idealized America, one mostly devoid of conflict or political turmoil. But ideals have their uses. It’s hard to make progress without them.
Naturally, I’m also curious about the history and content of all sorts of magazines, and I was keenly interested in reading as well as viewing the Post’s covers. I did not know, for example, that the Post, which was launched in 1916, had more than 2 million subscribers during the 1920s, a fact it boasted of on many of its covers. It ceased publication in 1967, a victim of television and the changing tastes of a more restless American public that had grown tired of the magazine’s staid and generally conservative fare.