The Atlanta Constitution from Atlanta, Georgia on November 12, 1978 · 14
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The Atlanta Constitution from Atlanta, Georgia · 14

Atlanta, Georgia
Issue Date:
Sunday, November 12, 1978
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' 14-A ghf Atlanta gpcrnal and CQT1TITI0 SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 1978 oekweir s World Mot Perfect, but He Painted the Ideal Norman Rockwell was probably the nation's most popular artist, yet bis work was never accepted as tine art He died Wednesday. Here is a view ot the artist and the man. It was written several months ago. By SAUL PETT Tht AuodtM Prm STOCKERDGE, Mass. - He was 4 years old when Teddy Roosevelt charged op San Juan Hill, 9 when the Wright broth- en got off the ground, 12 when the Panama Canal was opened. He was a pale, sunny, long-necked, pigeon-toed kid with a big Adam's apple and rotmd, rimless glasses and, of course, they called him Moo-ney. He was lousy at baseball, but he had one speciality that kept him afloat among his peers. "At first, my ability was just something I had, like a bag of lemon drops. My brother Jarvis could jump over three orange crates; Jack Outwater had an uncle who had seen a pirate; George Dugan could wiggle his ears; I could draw' ... But because it was all I had I began to make H mm arrknlA lif A f ArTB all the toe." NORMAN ROCKWELL All the time. He drew and he painted seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, a half day off at Christmas. He did this until the spring of last year, his 83rd year. He drew and he painted through two generations of America, trailed by the kind of smiles, sense of shared experience and affection that attended Samuel Clemens in letters. He became, probably, the most popular artist in his country's history, and he continued to try. He didn't need the money ' or, one assumes, the acclaim, but in the continuing, wondrous need of the creative man he continued to try. He became a prisoner of a wheelchair, in body not in spirit Norman Rockwell announced every three or four days to his wife, Molly, that this was the day he was going back to the . big red studio behind their house to finish the painting that had ; been on his easel for more than a year. Molly or a nurse wheeled him to the studio. Now and then he picked up a brush, but most often he painted only mentally. He complained mildly that because of the wheelchair he couldn't lean close enough to the painting, which was a picture of an early, liberal Colonial missionary receiving an Indian chief in his kitchen while his wife peeked around the corner, appalled. ''-V' i' 1 ) But the wheelchair was not Rockwell's problem. Age and energy were. So he stared at the painting, determined to re-do the rug in the foreground and make the wife more indignant Bat in actuality, he did little. He muttered that "it's hell to grow old," a simple statement of fact, and let that suffice for what can only be a profound frustration. He returned to his 200-year-old house for tea around the fire in the library, a daily event that involved one, sometimes two whiskey sours before tea. The painting over the fireplace was a Rockwell, an abstract featured in the home of a master of realistic detail. It was done by one of his three sons, Jarvis, a professional artist There in the library, Rockwell smoked his pipe. He asked what's new in Stockbridge and the world. He played a mean game of checkers. He complained little. His memory was better for memories a half century old, the shape of a model's nose or turn of mouth, than for yesterday. His prime was around the corner, up Main Street and one block to the right to the Old Corner House run by the Stock-bridge historical society and dominated by the work of one resident There was Norman Rockwell There, in his originals, he appeared larger, wiser, funnier, richer in texture and more poignant even than one remembered in the hundreds of covers he did for the Saturday Evening Post and Look magazine. . Rough-hewn men in working clothes looking on with curiosity and respect at a prime little lady and her grandson saying grace among the ketchup bottles of a shabby railroad restaurant A small boy in pajamas, eyes as big as they can pop. Behind him, the ultimate in revelations spilling from two open drawers: an arm and a leg of a Santa Claus suit A kindly old doctor, with an expression of it's all in a day's work, listening to the stethoscope placed against the chest ot a doll held by a solemn little girl A village barbershop, dark except for the embers in a coal stove and the lovely gold light coming from a back room where three elderly men play a violin, a clarinet a cello. A GI home from the big war, peeling potatoes with a perfect look of gentle bemusement, his mother watching with a subtle mixture of apprehension and love. A variety of white and black faces in prayer, a wedding ring imbedded for eternity on the wrinkled finger of an old woman. It was one of a series to illustrate the Four Freedoms of Franklin Roosevelt's America. A triple self-portrait Rockwell leaning to his left to a mirror, studying his bespectacled, graying image, right hand painting a picture of a Rockwell without gray or glasses. A smiling Dwight Eisenhower. Rockwell painted all the candidates and presidents from Ike to Richard Nixon. He once told a friend be enjoyed the first the most because of that grin and the last the least "because I couldn't find anything there." Rockwell painted with a passion for the visual truth and, Rockwell Books Get New Popularity; Real Boom Expected at Christmas By COLLEEN TEASLEY Norman Rockwell's death last week has unleashed increased sales of his art books and biographies in Atlanta stores, and book store buyers predict sales will pick up even more as the Christmas gift-buying season gets in full swing over the next several weeks "You can bet on it," said Cathy Duke of Brentano's bookstore downtown, when asked if Rockwell's books would be a hot item for Christmas. "People are in here right now buying his books," she aid Friday, only two days after Rockwell's death. "People have been coming in since late Thursday asking for Rockwell's books," said Michael Harrison, assistant ' manager at Waldenbooks at Northlake Mall. "I sold five or six of his books this morning," he said Friday. By chance, Rockwell's death coincided with a publisher's clearinghouse sale at Waldenbooks of a Rockwell book on the artist's Saturday Evening Post cover paintings. Harrison said it "was just happenstance" that the sale, which was scheduled two weeks ago, started the day after Rockwell's death. At the Ansley Mall Book Store, book buyer, Brenda Smith, said she would place an order for more Rockwell books next week in anticipation of increased demand for anything by or about Rockwell. "We have two women looking through Rockwell's books right now," she said Friday. "We expect many more requests on Saturday, when we usually have a lot of art buffs in here." "Rockwell's books always sell during Christmas time and I'm sure there will be a strong resurgence this Christmas," said Mike Eck, book buyer at Ardmore Book End in Sandy Springs.' The most popular of the Rockwell books is a $75 edition that includes most of Rockwell's art, Eck said. Tmt Georgia teasing "Where You Come First" IF.t M "Wt 1mm Any Mok fiutintu or PronoJ Um 955-0891 252-0334 "This is the' Rockwell book, and will be difficult to get now," Eck said. "When it goes into a new printing, the price probably will go to $90. "The manager and I were just talking this morning that we probably will be sent a lot of Rockwell books for Christmas selling," said Mary Faria, assistant manager at B. Dalton's downtown bookstore. She said the store has had the new Rockwell biography, "A Rockwell Portrait-An Intimate Biography," by Donald Walton for one week and it is selling well. Harry Abrams Publishing Inc. in New York City, which puts out the new biogaphy, Thursday placed a print order for 20,000 additional copies of Walton's book. The first two printings of the book 30,000 copies-have sold out, said Tom Thornton, Abrams' director of marketing. "We are out of stock," Thornton said. Before Rockwell's death, the publishing company had plans, to place a new print order for only 5,000 books, Thornton said. The new printing should be off the presses the day before Thanksgiving, Thornton said, and in bookstores across the country by Dec. 1. Negotiations have been stepped up for the paperback rights to the book. "It's a very valuable property at this time and worth a sizable amount," Thornton said. The value of anything touched by Rockwell will rise 3 Elegance at your convenience. Bailey Banks & Biddle's new Golden Card can open the door for you to Atlanta's great house of diamonds, fine gold and precious stone jewelry, great name watches, and the most desired crystal, porcelain, and giftware. Since 1832, people of taste and discernment have relied on Bailey Banks & Biddle for guidance in gift buying, in the selection of diamond jewelry, and in bridal counseling. Plan now to put all of Bailey Banks & Biddle's resources at your disposal. Call or come by for your Bailey Banks & Biddle's Golden Card application. - - V Bailey Banks&Biddle World Renowned Jewelers Since 1832 Lenox Square, Atlanta Greenbriar CenterSouth DeKalb MallPerimeter Mall Northlake Mall Also Macon Mall, MaconAugusta Mall, Augusta Mail and Phone Inquiries Invited: (404) 237-9247 "ST following his death, including the more than 100 items the Franklin Mint in Philadelphia commissioned him to make-such things as silver plates, medals and porcelain figures. His art already is high-priced. "The really good ones go for at least $50,000 a piece," said Donald Walton, the author of Rockwell's latest biography and a longtime business associate of Rockwell at the Franklin Mint. "The owner of the Rockwell original of the lady saying grace in a restaurant turned down an offer of $75,-000 for that one and later gave it to a museum," Walton said in an interview from his Kansas City, Kan., home. Walton visited Rockwell and his wife, Molly, at their Stockbridge, Mass., home just weeks before Rockwell's death. "He had difficulty speaking because of his strokes and it irritated him that he couldn't speak clearly," Walton remembered. Walton said Rockwell was still going strong at age 84 up to a little more than a year ago. "He started having a series of little strokes and would hurt himself when he would black out and fall off his bicycle," Walton said of Rockwell, who was an avid bike rider. Walton, who now works for the Hallmark Co., said Hallmark Christmas cards by Rockwell will be a big seller this year. He said Hallmark also has plans soon to sell other Rockwell items, including Rockwell plates. Rockwell died a "comfortably wealthy man," Walton said, but not nearly as wealthy as he could have been. "He could have had two or three times as much money as he bad," Walton said. Rockwell used to give his paintings away and often argued that he was being overpaid for some of his work, he said. "I had arguments with him when I was at Franklin Mint," Walton said. "He would say, 'You can't pay me that much, it won't take me that long to paint thai' "I would say, 'I won't pay you that little' and usually we'd end up somewhere in the middle." Rockwell often gave his original paintings away to people who posed for him and in the early years gave away the originals of the Saturday Evening Post covers, Walton said. "He felt they had served their purpose once the magazine used them and would give them away," Walton said. "I remember there was one lady in Chicago who wrote in and told him she would like to decorate her rec room with the originals from his Post magazine covers and offered him $500 each for them," Walton said. "I remember he was in a hurry to send them to her before she changed her mind and sent her eight pieces. That lady probably has $250,-000 worth of art in her rec room today." Walton said. almost invariably, worked from live models, whether the subject was people or animals. Long before brush touched cacvas, be arranged the props, the scenery, the lighting and acted out precisely the expression he wanted from his human models. With animals be showed an Olympian patience. How do you pose a chicken? "You pick np the chicken and rock him back and forth a few times," he wrote in his autobiography in 1960. "When yon set him down be will stand just as you've placed him for four or five minutes. Of course, you have to run behind the easel pretty quickly to do much painting before the chicken moves If you want to paint the chicken full face the procedure is even more complicated because the eyes of a chicken are on the sides of his head and when be looks at you he turns his bead. I puzzled about that for quite a while. Finally I got a long stick and after I'd set the chicken down and gone behind my easel I'd rap the wall at one side of the chicken and he'd turn bis bead toward me to look at the walL It's very strenuous painting a chicken..." . Over the years, the critics found Rockwell simplistic, corny and superficially photographic and refused to admit him to the world of "real art" The fact that be delighted and touched millions did not bend the membership rules. He, himself, never claimed to be anything more than an illustrator who made a lot of money. "I paint life as I would like it to be," he said. "Maybe as I grew up ... I unconsciously decided that, even if it wasn't an ideal world, it should be, and so painted only the ideal aspects of it pictures in which there were no drunken slatterns or self-centered mothers, in which, on the contrary, there were only foxy grandpas who played baseball with the kids and boys who fished from logs and got up circuses in the back yard. "If there was sadness in this created world of mine, it was a pleasant sadness. If there were problems, they were humorous problems. The people in my pictures aren't mentally ill or deformed. The situations they get into are commonplace, not the agonizing crises and tangles of life." Rockwell said this in I960. But before the decade was out, be was painting, among other things, a less than ideal worl Four huge U.S. marshals, walking past a tomato-splattered wall, escorting a little black girl in her Sunday clothes to school A civil rights worker murdered in Mississippi A family of Indians looking forlornly at a huge new dam. By the end of the decade be was telling an interviewer that "there was a time when all yon had to do was draw a mother, a kid and a dog. If yon really wanted to be sentimental you put a bandage on the dog's leg. It was a world where mothers loved their kids, kids loved their mothers and they both loved dogs. 1 really believed the war against Hitler would bring the Four Freedoms for everyone. But I couldn't paint that today, I just don't believe it I was doing this best-of-possible worlds ... And I liked it, but now Fm sick of it" That was in 1970 but the harshness expressed then has mellowed since. Lifelong appetites for humor and simple pleasures returned, and in recent years Norman Rockwell painted the amazement of hard-hat construction workers studying a long-haired kid playing a guitar, the arrival of a new fire engine in town; springtime in the village of Stockbridge. At 84 and In a wheelchair, he no longer felt up to interviews. What we learn now of his thoughts and feelings we learn from his wife and friends such as David Wood, checker opponent and curator of the Rockwell gallery here. . "He was never the simple man he appeared,? said Wood. "He was always, and still is, nagged by an unease, by the sense that there must be something more than I'm putting down on this canvas.'" "He still has a kind of wistfulness," said Molly Rockwell "He always wanted to paint a 'great work,' something that would get him recognition as a fine arts artist It was always just ahead of him but he never felt he made it But he had a lot of fun trying." Italian Week at Lenox Square. ... Come sample the delicious Italian dishes on the gourmet tables in davi-son's housewares department. Then savor fine Italian wines and cheeses. Viva Italia! a v;y ' ; n u vr, ' I vv our best foot forward Church's handcrafted English shoes Old world quality and craftsmanship combine with contemporary styling in these remarkable all leather shoes. Made in Northampton, England, 180 craftspeople need 8 weeks just to complete one pair of these famous Church shoes. In black or brown. For gentlemen who are willing to pay the price for perfection. $1 10 A. Washington in sizes 9V$ to 1 1, 12AB; 9 to 11, 12C and Th to 12D. B. Holbom in sizes 9' toll, l2AB;9to 11C and Vh toll, 12D. Come in and see our other styles in a wide range of sizes and widths from A to D. Not a! widths in afl styles but any size not in stock will be special ordered at no extra charge. Men's Shoes, D. 46, Davison's Downtown and Lenox Square. Call (404) 221-7500 anytime, 24 hours a day. Elsewhere in Georgia, call toll free 1-800-282-5817. rarnQ ; Item key quantity color size addressapt. ' ' citystatezip ; ' : : phone account : I I I Wilhln Grealet Atlanta, free delivery on purchases ot $10 or more unless otherwise stated (add $1.25 delivery charge on orders under $10). Outside Greater Atlanta odd $1 50 postage, insurance, handling on first item, plus 250 each additional item. Add sales tax where applicable. Please allow 10 days tor delivery. Sorry, no C.O.D.'s. Mail to Davison's, Atlanta. Georgia 30303. . D. 46 It-12-78 Shop all Atlanta Covison's Branch Stores Sunctays 12:30 to30. Downtown closed Sundays.

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