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Norman Rockwell's double life.

From pork and beans to headstones and everything in between, America's favorite magazine cover illustrator lent his artist's touch to many of our most popular products.

Few would argue that Norman Rockwell's art is as American as apple pie, Thanksgiving, the Four Freedoms - and advertising. Advertising? Yes, though we tend to associate Rockwell art with magazine covers - his 324 Saturday Evening Post covers in particular - it was the artist's practice to charge twice as much for an advertising picture as for a magazine cover or story illustration. Even the most prestigious publications could not compete with the sums big business was willing to pay good illustrators.

Norman Rockwell's entrance into the world of advertising art began in 1914 with an illustration for Heinz Pork & Beans. From then on, his patient easel supported paintings that would help call the world's attention to everything from Crest Toothpaste to Interwoven Socks. From the Ford Motor Company to Arrow Collars. From Sun-Maid to the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. We'll be getting letters if we fail to mention other diverse products highlighted by Rockwell's busy brush, products such as Orange Crush, Amway, Jell-O, Overland automobiles, Fisk bicycle tires, and Ticonderoga pencils by Dixon.

In the early 1920s, General Electric hired Rockwell to illustrate its Edison Mazda Lamps. His series of paintings depicting family scenes illuminated by the soft glow of electric bulbs became classics, brightening the pages of The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies' Home Journal, and Good Housekeeping.

Around that time, Fleischmann's Yeast commissioned an ad depicting the importance of bread (made, of course, with yeast). In Bread and Ambition, Rockwell portrayed kids on Halloween, one dressed up like Napoleon Bonaparte heroically holding up a slice of bread ("the most ancient, honorable, universal, and wholesome, of all foods," to quote Bonaparte himself). With Rockwell's wonderful painting, you were convinced. The name of the product appeared only in small print on the corner. As was true in much of Rockwell's advertising work, the product was downplayed or did not appear at all, a slogan did the promoting.

In 1922, Rockwell produced five advertising illustrations for Sun-Maid Raisins. In them, he displayed his masterful use of light and dark, which was not appropriate for magazine covers. Market Day Special showed three generations gathered around a table as the family's pet dog begged for raisins from Grandma. Fruit of the Vine centered upon a mature woman dressed in "modern" flapper garb and her mother in old-fashioned dress bathed in light from an open window. As the mother prepared dough, the daughter poured juicy raisins into a gloved hand. The message was as clear as the Vermeer-like painting: quality, be it raisins or art, never fails to inspire.

Pork and beans, cornflakes, coffee, airlines, sweet corn, lacquer, toothpaste, socks, automobiles, collars, raisins, life insurance, soda, bicycle tires, pencils. Enough already? No, not even brake linings could bring to a stop the flow of paint upon Rockwell's busy easel.

In 1922, the Raybestos Company commissioned Norman Rockwell to do several paintings to advertise its brakes and brake linings. Made with asbestos, the linings were believed to be the safest available.

To inform the American public of the need for driving safely, Rockwell created six advertisements that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post warning people of the need for good brakes when driving on hills, in bad weather, and in heavy traffic.

As Rockwell's fame grew, so did his advertising appeal - to the point where he could even paint himself into an ad when duty or whim demanded. In 1947, 20 years after it began flying the 90 miles from Key West to Havana, Pan American Airlines became the first airline to operate a scheduled round-the-world service. Who better to acquaint the public with Pan Am's routes and services than America's top illustrator? And who better to become the model for this series of advertisements than the artist himself?

The ad slogans would thus have the artist saying, "Pan American was my magic carpet around the world." Accompanying the artist sketching in far corners of the globe were a bearded native peering over his shoulder in a Turkish bazaar and a bevy of lovely, grass-skirted "diversions" on the beach at Waikiki.

With big business paying big sums for his talent, the question arises: How did magazines such as the Post, Country Gentleman, Life, Liberty, Boys' Life, Collier's, and Literary Digest continue to be highlighted by the Rockwell name on their covers and their story illustrations?

The answer comes easily: Norman Rockwell was good. So good that by the mid-'40s, his income was sufficient to allow him to be somewhat indifferent to the lure of advertising.

During his long career, Rockwell worked for more than 150 companies and produced more than 800 advertisements, calendars, illustrations, logos, and mastheads. Ironically, among his last published ads was a series for Rock of Ages Corporation, a manufacturer of headstones. Rockwell died November 8, 1978, but his art lives on.

The following pages feature some of Norman Rockwell's most endearing advertising paintings for products you'll no doubt recognize. They should bring back memories.



Kellog's Corn Flakes proved to be among the most cherished of Norman Rockwell's advertising art over the years. In 1953, the company commissioned Rockwell to paint six ad illustrations to dress up Kellog's Corn Flakes boxes. Thus, for the next three years, children and adults the world over would eat their breakfast looking at a picture of Rockwell's "Kellog's Kids."



Hills Brothers Coffee became another of Rockwell's favorite clients. In 1929, the artist would lift from his easel this painting, which served to brew interest in households across the land. Dr. Donald Stoltz, coauthor of The Advertising World of Norman Rockwell, has declared it to be "the most famous display ever created." Today, Hills Brothers is one of the nation's three largest-selling brands of coffee.



The subject of food is central in a number of Rockwell's best-known works. Though his artistic mood might vary from serious to satiric, from cute to clever, never did it swing to corny. Never? Well, maybe once. Asked to paint peas, the artist refused, saying that in his estimation, peas were not a romantic subject.
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Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Nov 1, 1994
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