Lesson 6: Norman Rockwell
Students will explore work by an artist who observed America and its people through a unique lens.
To have students recognize that observation and personal experience are the basis for many illustrations.
Norman Rockwell: An American Portrait DVD, camera, sketchpads, watercolor pencils
Getting to know the World's Greatest Artists Series: Norman Rockwell written and illustrated by Mike Venezia
Norman Rockwell illustrated by Arthur L. Guptill
Norman Rockwell's America by Christopher Finch
SET UP AND PREPARE
1. View the DVD, a PBS special edition on Norman Rockwell. Look at Norman Rockwell's work.
Share this quote from the DVD:
"In 1957 the United States Chamber of Commerce in Washington cited him as a Great Living American: 'Through the magic of your talent, the folks next door—their gentle sorrows, their modest joys—have enriched our own lives and given us new insight into our countrymen.'"
2. Have students discuss why this honor would be given to an artist. What new insight is this referring to?
3. Explain that Norman Rockwell painted pictures that the everyday American remembered experiencing or heard their relatives talking about. His work was detailed and expressive, often mirroring our own responses and feelings about typical life situations.
The covers of the Saturday Evening Post elevated the general population's concept of family, faith, and home in the heartland of America to national attention.
Rockwell's style of illustration featured characters with full faces and expressive eyes. His attention to detail was extraordinary. Have students choose a Post cover and note all the details that they see.
4. Explain that each detail was staged by Rockwell. He had a closet that any drama company would envy. He collected authentic clothes and accessories for his models to wear. Norman would often buy or barter or trade his clothes for those of a farmworker or clerk. He wanted the faded color and texture of overalls and worn, rained-on and sweated-in hats whose brims rolled. Rockwell would often use mirrors as in the "Triple Self-Portrait," to help him see facial expressions that he wanted in his paintings.
5. Discuss his "four freedoms," created during Roosevelt's campaign for president. Have students identify why these four freedoms are still basic to American life today.
Explain to students that Rockwell sold a story to the editors of the Saturday Evening Post. He didn't create the artwork until he had sold them on the story itself. He often had to act out what the scene would be like.
Once the story was approved, he would travel home to his studio and use the faces and people of the town he lived in, casting them in the roles of the story he saw. He would set up his models and sketch, then photograph the images making a still film—then he would paint the story.
Norman Rockwell drew his ideas from observing the people around him, everyday events like going to school, fishing, and Thanksgiving dinner. He used concepts of families and traditions that every American household could identify with and connect with.
6. Share with students background information about Norman Rockwell. He was born in New York City in 1894. His grandfather was Thomas Hill, an English painter who came to America after the Civil War. He watched the way his grandfather painted with painstaking detail, including individual hairs on a dog and more. His family would travel to the country for the summers and there he saw the traditions of farming and swimming holes and made family memories and experiences that helped influence his artwork later on. He saw the turn of the century change daily life in America. Trolley cars and automobiles, high-rises and skyscrapers changed his view of an urban environment. Illustration was not popular when Rockwell began his work illustrating books. He studied art in New York City and a variety of schools, including a school called The Art Students League that was started by one of his art heroes, Howard Pyle. Rockwell admired Pyle's work and studied his style. In 1959 Rockwell was the first inductee to the Illustrators Hall of Fame. He created a total of 317 covers for the Saturday Evening Post.
1. Explain to students that they are following in Rockwell's footsteps. Have students brainstorm about their own family traditions and typical school events. Have them take pictures at school events and ask the yearbook committee if they can share photographs. They can ask the drama department for props, or students can bring in their own items to help "set their scene." Have students dress in appropriate clothing and "costumes" for their scene. Take several photos of expressions and groups together acting out "their chosen story," like Rockwell did.
2. Have students work from photographs to create paintings. Be sure to have enough viewpoints and copies that each student in a group has a slightly different vantage point or perspective.
3. Students could use watercolor pencils for detailing and then wash in with water areas, creating the subtle tones Rockwell's work was noted for.
4. Have students write a descriptive essay explaining their illustrated story.
5. Display the work in a celebration of Rockwell's style and exhibit all student illustrations.
Have students bring in photos from their own family events and use them as the basis for an illustration.
Have senior relatives or special guests come in and tell stories from their youth. Record the presentations, asking the guests to give as much detail as they can to help students "see" the story they are telling.
Replay the recordings or videos in class, asking students to use the visit as the inspiration for an illustration.