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The Norman Rockwell I knew.

His paintings had a hidden side not normally known to the public.

It was some 30 years ago that Norman Rockwell came to live in Stockbridge, in western Massachusetts. I first met him when he came to my office in Pittsfield for some advice about a minor medical problem. He was a quiet, thin, rather selfeffacing man, not at all the strong personality I had expected from his world renown. In his quiet voice, he expressed a few simple requests and that was all. But how wrong I was on this initial encounter. Although a slight, self-deprecatory laugh might follow some of his remarks, his personality behind this minor shield was very strong and definite. His warmth of association was outstanding, as indeed I should have expected from his paintings. They certainly reflected his inner feelings and thoughts,

As our friendship developed over the years, I found him an increasingly good companion and uncovered a variety of engaging traits. One was his sense of humor. One time he entered Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield overnight for a cystoscopy, a look up into the bladder through a lighted tube. That evening he remarked, "Well, Frank, I guess tomorrow we'll have the Big Peek." One can see this humor reflected in his art.

His major works are, of course, well-known and are usually associated with his Saturday Evening Post covers, which he painted over a period of decades. But his outstanding works also included The Four Freedoms-illustrations of the Atlantic Charter-which reflected his belief in mankind in general and our society in particular. And his paintings had a hidden side not normally known to the public. For example, there is a painting of the head of an adolescent girl surrounded by suggestions of her dreams and thoughts. Norman's perceptiveness in creating these pubescent visions reflected his own sensitive personality.

Another pair of paintings showing this sensitivity were two canvases of the same subject, two imaginative memorials to the deaths of civil-rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1964. One day he brought them into my office and asked which I thought was the better: the one representative and almost photographic, as his paintings characteristically were, or the other much more impressionistic, lights and shadows with no details of the falling figure. There was no question in my mind as to which was the most eye-catching and appealing-the impressionistic-and I was sure that was Norman's choice. I think he merely wanted backing up from me. This is the painting subsequently used to illustrate this darkly dramatic moment.

Generosity was another prominent characteristic of Norman Rockwell's. He gave away many of his paintings (now, of course, immensely valuable), particularly to those who were models for them. The result is that more than a few of his original oil paintings are scattered throughout Berkshire County. In my house are copies of drawings he made of me; one includes this inscription: "My very best to my good friend and doctor, Frank Paddock. Cordially, Norman Rockwell." One oil painting he gave me was of the developing concept of Stagecoach done for the movie's remake in 1966. He gave it to me matted but unframed, with this inscription: "Greetings to my friend Frank Paddock, my favorite medicine man. Sincerely, Norman Rockwell." I completed the framing and then had to get his approval, because he considered himself an expert on framing-which indeed he was. (Fortunately, he approved.)

Occasionally, I visited him in his studio, both as a model and more often as an observer. His standard method of production was to photograph local models in his studio. From these photos his paintings were made. Frequently, he would make an oil sketch on a student board and then complete the work on a much larger canvas. He often did some undercoating, laying down a paint over which the final color went. He once said to me for example, "I always lay on a purple under anything that I'm going to paint black." At another time he said, "If the basic figures of a painting have worked out well but I'm not sure of how I'm going to develop them from there, I varnish it so that I can wipe out the next layer and redo it, if I don't like it, without changing the base."

I had done considerable amateur painting ("Sunday painting" is the usual pejorative) over a period of years, and one summer I had the temerity to join Norman and a few friends at a weekly life-painting class. Here, Norman painted on anything he happened to put his hands on-such as a wooden shingle. I look back with embarrassment on the comparison of our results. And just as bad a contrast was a view of the Teton Range in Jackson Hole, which Norman and I had by chance painted from almost exactly the same site. This and other absolutely charming oil sketches he hung at his house, the subjects being various spots he had visited in the latter part of his life.

A debate that continues nowadays even in Stockbridge itself revolves around whether he was an artist or an illustrator. I captured Norman himself discussing this point in a film I did with Boyer Films, The Berkshire Legacy: "You know, there's a difference of opinion as to whether I am an artist or an illustrator, and when I find someone arguing that I am an artist, I always reply that I am nothing but an illustrator, but I always let my opponent win the debate," he said, followed by a chuckle.

Norman's life was not all a bed of roses. His wife (the mother of his three boys), who had needed prolonged psychiatric treatment, died suddenly, leaving him in quite a depressed mood. He eventually remarried a most pleasant and intelligent woman, slightly his junior, which worked out very successfully.

But Norman's last years were clouded. Certainly during the very last years of his life, his paintings were inferior, and his personality was almost totally nonreactive. After his death at 84, attempts were made to make his deterioration a focus for the study of Alzheimer's disease, but there was no medical evidence for diagnosis.

By no means are all patients as stimulating, interesting, and agreeable as Norman Rockwell was. If they were, a doctor's fife would be ever so much easier.

Was he an illustrator or an artist? Because he not only chronicled events, but also illumined and interpreted the thoughts and emotions of us humans, I favor the latter.
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Title Annotation:by neighbor Franklin K. Paddock
Author:Paddock, Franklin K.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Biography
Date:Jul 1, 1988
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