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He was slender and unassuming. No one would pick American artist Norman Rockwell out of a crowd, but his brand of realism in art has rendered his work instantly recognizable and has endeared him to the hearts of millions around the world.
Born 3 February 1894, Norman Percevel Rockwell discovered his talent for art early on, and attended the Art Students League School. He produced his first professional work at age 16. Shortly thereafter, he was commissioned to illustrate the Tell Me Why children's book series and the Boys' Life magazine of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Norman Rockwell worked with the BSA for the next 50 years.
Norman Rockwell also illustrated magazine covers; his contract with The Saturday Evening Post produced 321 covers. He also illustrated advertisements for companies as diverse as Jell-O, Coca-Cola and Pan American Airlines. His group of the "Four Freedoms" have been reprinted for countless public buildings nationwide.
Norman Rockwell had the knack for capturing the very essence of a scene. Whether he was sketching a young couple applying for a marriage license, or a boy pitching his first baseball game, Norman Rockwell's paintings put the viewer in the very center of the action. Much of his work centered on home, family, childhood, but in his later years, he tackled subjects like segregation and the Civil Rights movement. His paintings of Christmas celebrations certainly helped crystallize the popular vision of Santa Claus in America.
Norman Rockwell also painted portraits of many of the celebrities of his era. In these, he also captured the people behind the image. He painted comedians Jack Benny and Bob Hope; Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy; and world leaders Nehru and Nasser. In 1977, President Gerald Ford presented Norman Rockwell with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.
Although Norman Rockwell died in 1978, his artwork still appears in advertising and on calendars and in books. Many books cover various aspects of his artistic career, including his Saturday Evening Post covers, advertising illustrations and holiday paintings. His work is uniquely American and encapsulates a nation's history, joys, fears, tragedies and hopes in its scope.