A Stone's Throw: A subject for an illustrator


Betty Stone



My friend, Barbara Yarborough, lent me a May issue of The Saturday Evening Post, because she thought it had an advertisement for a device that just might keep the deer of my neighborhood from eating my flowers. They feel quite free to do so, since, after all, they were here first. They obviously consider that I have come to plant their fields with good things to eat, and I expect they are properly grateful. They are not a bit scared of me. In fact, I fancy they rather like me. They have brought their fawns to see me. 


Although I have a love-hate relationship with them -- they are unarguably beautiful creatures -- I am not interested in feeding them, especially my flowers. 


I have not decided whether to order the device. I got sidetracked by the major subject of the whole issue of the magazine, 100 years of Norman Rockwell. Imagine! A century of Norman Rockwell illustrations that have appeared in that magazine. I was around to enjoy most of them, I'll bet. 


Norman Rockwell had so many illustrations on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post that he and the publication were almost synonymous. Although his illustrations first appeared before I was born, I still feel as if I grew up on them. 


Rockwell's style was unique. Briefly he wandered a little into the world of more "avant-garde"artists like Matisse or Picasso, but he always came back to what he made famous, the illustrations a generation knew and loved. He had a tremendous following. Fans would write in to comment on little details in his illustrations. The artist himself paid sharp attention to details, especially things like shoes. He probably just as carefully painted the shoestrings. 


His subjects were always things ordinary people could relate to, and some of them were justifiably famous. Nearly anyone who lived through World War II can remember the impact of his paintings of the four freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. All four appearing in 1943, they seemed to epitomize what we were fighting to preserve. On tour they raised over $132 million for the war effort. 


Today his work sells for enormous prices. In 2014 his painting "Saying Grace" sold for $46 million. That was not always the case. When the artist donated a canvas, "Day in the Life of a Boy," to his town's Community Club yearly raffle, it brought in only 50 cents. I have friends who sell work for more than that. In fact, so have I; and I do not consider myself a "real" artist. Just a wannabe. 


The subjects of Rockwell's paintings have a unique look. They border on cartoons, because he always caught a quirky or comedic expression just under the surface of the likeness. A viewer not only felt he might have known the subject, but probably knew what he or she was thinking as well. They were the man next door, the woman at the grocery store, people you felt you recognized.  


The paintings can tell a story in a single frame. One that moved me is of a boy leaving for college. He and his father sit on the running board of an old car, the boy bright-faced and eager, looking clearly to the future, with the family collie's head resting pensively on his knee. Beside him sits his father, pensive as the dog, elbows on knees, cigarette dangling, his face reflecting the parental loss of parting. You do not just see the painting. You feel it. 


I had my own idea of a subject I wish he had painted: a woman looking bleakly at straight tulip stalks thrusting skyward, their blossoms neatly nipped off, delicacies for the neighboring deer. That is a real scene from life that I could have posed for myself. 


Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in and lives in Columbus.


Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.


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