Bill Scovill was one of Rockwell's reference photographers. Here is a negative of one such photograph used in 'The Golden Rule.' All the images carry the museum's watermark. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections, copyright NRELC, Niles, IL.
STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — Paul Strand, the modernist American who put photography on the 20th century art map, said the "artist's world is limitless. It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always on his doorstep."
While Strand himself found inspiration in the rooftops and streets of Manhattan, Norman Rockwell, the Berkshires' own "adopted son," found inspiration in the people in his community and the concepts of his time.
Now, thanks to some $2 million in grants over the past seven years from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Henry Luce Foundation and the town of Stockbridge (to name a few), 4,400 of Rockwell's drawings and paintings as well as 20,000 photographs, correspondence and art and ephemera from other American illustrators are available for online viewing and research.
This week the Norman Rockwell Museum officially launched ProjectNORMAN, an online art and archive network dedicated to all things Rockwell.
According to a press release issued by the museum, the project is the result of a decadelong collection, cataloguing and digitization project. The result is a gorgeous, in-depth, visually rich archive that sheds a different light on the man with the wooden pipe.
Of course, the website contains images of the famous paintings we all visit the museum to see, but there is more, much more including fan letters to the artist, pictures of all of the objects that were found in his last studio and images of original sketches. Yet, to me, what is most striking about the ProjectNORMAN collection are the scores of black and white negatives of the models he used for his paintings. These images, many of which were taken by Stockbridge resident Bill Scovill (1914-1997), are works of art themselves, and capture the very human, in some cases melancholy expressions on the faces of Rockwell’s models.
These "reference" photographs are holding their own at the Brooklyn Museum in a traveling exhibit titled "Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera." In fact, in a recent review of the exhibition, New York Times art critic Ken Johnson called it a "revelation" into Rockwell's work as a "naturalist" illustrator.
'The Golden Rule' is among Rockwell's best-known works. "Golden Rule," Norman Rockwell, 1960. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections, copyright 1960 SEPS: Indianapolis, IN.
The heartfelt photographs compliment the many letters Rockwell received from his admiring fans, including a 1961 letter from Songma Tenzing Lama, a Buddhist lama who wrote in praise of "The Golden Rule," which appeared on the April cover of the Saturday Evening Post.
"… I especially appreciate this picture which does speak from the heart to the heart better than all the political Summit Meetings."
ProjectNORMAN is an honest display of not only an artist's work but also his inspiration; his life behind the painting. To visit the archival collections go to collections.nrm.org/highlights.jsp.