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The History Behind Norman Rockwell and the Saturday Evening Post Covers

With his art on cover of the Saturday Evening Post, Norman Rockwell became an American icon. The popularity of his illustrations on the cover helped make the Post the magazine America read.

Norman Rockwell and the Saturday Evening Post both became fixtures in American homes during the early years of the Twentieth Century.

The Saturday Evening Post was published weekly in the United States from August 4, 1821 to February 8, 1969 and monthly afterward. Curtis Publishing Co., its publisher for most of that period, claimed the magazine was founded by Benjamin Franklin. However, the Post's first issue was published more than 30 years after Franklin's death in 1790.

The Post had fallen on hard times by the late Nineteenth Century. The new editor of the Post at that time, George Horace Lorimer, rebuilt the Saturday Evening Post into the premier magazine of its time. Mr Lorimer, as Norman Rockwell called him, took the Post "from a two bit family journal with a circulation in the hundreds to an influential mass magazine with a circulation in the millions." Quoted from My Adventures as an Illustrator.

Although hesitant about approaching the Saturday Evening Post, Norman Rockwell was certain that the cover of the Post was his window of opportunity. He had dreamed for years of having his illustrations on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Norman Rockwell put aside his fears in 1916 and took two paintings and three sketches to Philadelphia and Mr. Lorimer's office. Rockwell was so nervous and scared that he almost turned around and headed back to New York when he reached the Post's office building.

To Rockwell's great relief and delight, Mr. Lorimer liked the two paintings and approved the three sketches for future covers for the Saturday Evening Post. Norman Rockwell was paid much more than ever before for his work.

He was paid $75.00 each for his two paintings. $150.00 in 1916 dollars would be 2628.44 in 2005 dollars. Quite a sum for a virtually unknown 18 year old artist!

Even more important than the immediate payment was the knowledge that he was going to be published on the cover of The Post.

The first Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover was published May 20, 1916. Entitled Boy with Baby Carriage, it shows 2 boys in baseball uniforms scoffing at another boy dressed in his Sunday suit pushing a baby carriage. One of Norman Rockwell's favorite models, Billy Paine, posed for all three boys.

Boy with Baby Carriage was an instant success, and Norman Rockwell was on his way to becoming a household name.

On June 3, 1916, the second Saturday Evening Post Norman Rockwell cover was published. His second effort featured a kid's circus with one kid in long underwear being the strongman. Another kid in a top hat was the circus barker, extolling the other kids in the painting to see the show. This was the second of the two finished paintings Rockwell originally showed to Mr Lorimer. This second painting is regarded by most as being every bit as good as the first.

The Circus Barker and the Strongman cemented Rockwell's position as the favorite artist at the Post. Next, however, Norman found out that "doing Post covers wasn't all soup and fish." His next idea, which had already been approved, took considerably more work.

At the first presentation, Mr. Lorimer said the old man looked too rough and tramp like. Anxious to continue his success at the Saturday Evening Post, Norman Rockwell dutifully redid the painting. At the second presentation, the old man looked too old. Paint it again. Next, the kid was too small. Paint it again. The painting, Gramps at the Plate, was redone a total of five times.

Mr Lorimer later told Norman that this was his test. Rockwell says in his autobiography, My Adventures as an Illustrator, "I wonder if he knew how near I came to flunking his test."

All in all, more than 300 Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post covers were published. Rockwell gained the love and admiration of the average American along the way. From 1916 until 1963, he was a regular weekend visitor in American homes via the Saturday Evening Post.

The last Saturday Evening Post Norman Rockwell cover was in remembrance after his death in 1978. The illustration featured was a portion of his famous Triple Self-Portrait. This cover was published in February 1979 as a tribute to the artist who had done so much for the Post and for whom the Post had done so much. On the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, Norman Rockwell earned his reputation as an artist.

Author: Keith McDonald - More


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