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Rockwell: adman sold on idyllic life

By Charles McVicker / May 28, 1985



The Advertising World of Norman Rockwell, by Dr. Norman Stoltz and Marshall Stoltz. New York: Madison Square Press/Robert Silver Associates. 209 pp. $39.95. Norman Rockwell was a most exasperating artist. As a draftsman and painter he was a genius. He was probably the greatest American illustrator ever. The research and detail he put into his paintings inspire awe. But for reasons unfathomable he dedicated these huge talents to the depiction of kitsch.

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He is quoted as saying that he painted the world as he wanted it to be. He created a fantasy America, having as little to do with the real thing as a Hollywood western has to do with the ``Old West.'' It is understandable why he is loved by so many. Just as many love cotton candy, so Rockwell's vision of a sweet, bucolic America entrances millions.

Norman Rockwell was born in the Bronx, grew up in an urban atmosphere, had three wives, and hobnobbed with very sophisticated New Yorkers, but he insisted on depicting a rural America that was a figment of his imagination. The Roaring '20s and depression hardly existed in his work. Two world wars were shown as either noble or cute.

One has to ask if, after he became financially secure, there wasn't a point when his consciousness cried ``enough.'' Didn't he wish to depict something other than The Saturday Evening Post's and ad agencies' views of life?

Perhaps, then, this book, ``The Advertising World of Norman Rockwell,'' is the most honest book of Rockwell art. Here he is shown as the outstanding salesman he is. The messages he conveyed: Crest toothpaste stops cavities; Elgin watches last forever; and Coca-Cola is wholesome refreshment. The book contains ads Mr. Rockwell did for over 100 companies, with short biographies of each company.

First and foremost, Norman Rockwell was a superior adman. Second, few ads today are instilled with the warmth and humanity Rockwell brought to his ads. And last, companies and ad campaigns come and go. Norman Rockwell is shown to be clearly the greatest ``commercial'' artist of all.

Charles McVicker teaches art at Trenton State College.