History of Norman Rockwell's
Work With the Boy Scouts of America
One day in the fall of 1912, a talented 18-year-old art
student named Norman Rockwell walked into the offices of Boy's
Life looking for work. When he left, he had his first commission
to do a magazine illustration and had begun a relationship with
the Boy Scouts of America that would last for more than 60
years. Rockwell became the visual spokesman for Scouting,
bringing its spirit and ideals to life through hundreds of
When the gangly Rockwell tried to join the Navy to fight in
World War I, in 1917, he was at first rejected for being 17
pounds underweight. He later made it in with the help of a Navy
doctor who waived a rule for him, but then found himself doing
"morale" work at a base in Charleston, S.C., preparing art for
the camp newspaper and painting and sketching officers and
sailors. He was given a special early discharge from the navy
after painting a portrait of his commanding officer. Throughout
his life, he remained deeply patriotic, and he frequently used
heroic symbols, especially the American flag, to communicate
patriotic values to Boy Scouts.
Every year but two from 1925 through 1976, Norman Rockwell did a
painting for the annual Boy Scout calendar published by Brown &
Bigelow. Each painting presented an image of idealized Scouts in
worthy action, and always with meticulously accurate uniforms
and equipment. By 1929, the Boy Scout calendar was the most
popular in America, and it remained so for many years.
Asked if he might ever run out of subjects for his paintings,
Rockwell once said, "The Boy Scouts are simply going to have to
devise some new deeds or Brown & Bigelow will be in a stew." Yet
the artist always found fresh ways to evoke the virtues of
Scouting. In 1939, when he had been painting Scouts for more
than 25 years, Rockwell was honored with the highest award given
by the Boy Scouts of America, the Silver Buffalo, presented
before an audience of 3,000 people at the Waldorf-Astoria in New
In the sixties, Rockwell's focus broadened to include many more
minority and foreign Scouts. His calendar paintings for the
world jamboree years of 1963 and 1967 both depicted Scouts of
various nations joyously united.
"The common places of America are to me the richest subjects in
art," he once said. "Boys batting flies on vacant lots; girls
playing jacks on front steps; old men plodding home at twilight;
all these arouse feelings in me."
Rockwell's illustrations almost defined America in the middle
part of the 20th century; they certainly helped define Scouting.
His career spanned nearly the whole history of the Boy Scouts to
date, encompassing an age during which both America and the Boy
Scouts grew immensely, a period, as Rockwell wrote, "when
America believed in itself. I was happy to be painting it." The
artist died in 1978 at the age of 84.