Telling America’s Story through the Art of Norman Rockwell and America’s Illustrators

Telling America’s Story through the Art of Norman Rockwell and America’s Illustrators

Shaping National Conversation on American Illustration Art (1969 – 2014)

By Laurie Norton Moffatt, Director/CEO, Norman Rockwell Museum

From soaring ideals of freedom and social justice, to heartwarming and humorous moments of the commonplace — America’s illustrators defined the story of our nation and her people, and none more so than Norman Rockwell. Since the advent of mass media art, America’s illustrators have chronicled our human triumphs and tragedies, ingenuity, and inventions; and our hopes and aspirations. American illustration art records our history from Winslow Homer’s scenes of the Civil War to Howard Pyle’s Colonial Revival paintings of the American Revolution, to Norman Rockwell’s inspirational Four Freedoms and Civil Rights Movement images, which embody the very essence of our democratic ideals of freedom and social justice.


In 1969, a merry band of citizens came together to save an old house on the Main Street of Stockbridge. Norman and Molly Rockwell were two of those citizens. From this endeavor, a small house museum was born, in which Norman Rockwell generously exhibited his personal art collection. Within five years, people were flocking to see his original paintings and he established the Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust to place his collection in perpetuity for the purpose of public art appreciation and education.

Norman Rockwell was the Museum’s first art donor; in 1974 he gifted his art collection, personal papers, photographs and working studio, placing it in trust and in the stewardship of Norman Rockwell Museum for art appreciation and education. Over time, the Museum has more than doubled the Rockwell collection of original art through purchase, gift and bequest.

Norman Rockwell Museum is the leading museum in the nation dedicated to telling America’s story through the eyes of its finest illustrators. With the largest most significant collection of Norman Rockwell’s art, including such icons as The Four Freedoms, Problem We All Live With, and The Runaway; to significant works by such Golden Age illustrators as Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, James Montgomery Flagg; to such contemporary masters as William Steig and David Macaulay— we are the home of American Illustration Art. Started with 125 paintings Norman Rockwell placed in trust with the Museum in 1974, our collection now numbers nearly 8,000 artworks.


Despite public affection for Rockwell’s legacy, for many decades, the art world remained aloof. Scarred by the prevailing attitudes framed by art critics and such modern art movements as abstract expressionism, rooted in the New York Armory Show of 1913, Rockwell fell out of step with the art elite. Undeterred, he remained smartly in step with the pulse of America, chronicling and creating the most symbolic image of the Civil Rights movement, and recording contemporary issues up until his death in 1978.

Set against this backdrop, when he was labeled in his 1978 New York Times obituary as the “Rembrandt of Punkin’ Creek,” it is all the more remarkable that Rockwell’s work set the all- time record at 2013’s American art auctions, when his painting, Saying Grace sold for $46 million. In 2014, The Rookie set a runner-up record at $21 million, making Norman Rockwell the highest selling artist at American art auction. It is gratifying to witness Rockwell’s renaissance and celebrate his important contributions to American art and society, which Norman Rockwell Museum has always championed.

45 years since its inception, the Museum has shared its collection across the nation, around the world, and on the web where it is accessible to all. Requests for exhibitions of our collections have come from more than 150 cities in 40 states, 7 countries, and 4 continents. With the internet, Rockwell’s art is now accessible across the globe. It is gratifying to witness Rockwell’s renaissance and celebrate his important contributions to American art and society, which Norman Rockwell Museum has always championed.


Last year, we punctuated the development of a collections initiative launched five years ago, with the acquisition of the art and archives from the Famous Artists School of Westport, CT. This transformative gift, comprising approximately 16,000 items, expands the Museum’s collection, and advances its aim to develop an encyclopedic collection of American illustration art, creating a cultural context around our signature Norman Rockwell collection. Started with 125 paintings Norman Rockwell placed in trust with the Museum in 1974, our collection now numbers nearly 8,000 artworks.

There are 17,500 museums in the United States. However only a handful are committed to collecting, exhibiting, and interpreting the art of illustration. Among them, the Brandywine River Museum, Delaware Art Museum, the Library of Congress, Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators, National Museum of American Illustration, New Britain Museum of American Art, and the recently announced Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, have taken up the charge.

We are doing something unique and vitally important, ensuring that the storytelling art of our nation’s history, as experienced by millions through mass media and publishing, is preserved for generations, securing its rightful place in the American art history canon. It is urgent that we collect this art and encourage others to collect it before it disappears.

The Museum has made a concerted effort to build its collection through gifts, and over the past decade, it has grown tenfold. The collection now includes nearly 800 artworks by Norman Rockwell, and more than 7,100 artworks by other accomplished historical and contemporary illustrators — including the largest public collection of original drawings and cartoons by celebrated illustrator and children’s book author, William Steig (1907-2003), donated by his widow, Jeanne Steig.


We are grateful beyond measure to the generosity of artists, collectors and patrons, as the entire growth of the collection has been accomplished by gifts from generous donors. It is truly extraordinary to have birthed this collection entirely by gifts during the heart of the recent recession, and we look forward to sharing our collections in Stockbridge, on the road, and online with an international audience of fans, scholars, historians, and new generations discovering Rockwell and the art of American illustration.