American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell

Do you have a favorite Rockwell painting?  They all seem to tell a story and I admit that when I was growing up, the Saturday Evening Post covers were fascinating to me.  This book gave me the reason why I was so fascinated.  

I borrowed this audio book from my local library so I am giving those credits.  The author is Deborah Solomon and is published by Recorded Books.  It is narrated by Andrea Gallo.  The books is 17 discs in length and unabridged.

It is my understanding that the author is an established art critic so at times I felt that she read the pictures with more than the normal eye would have seen.  Even after listening to the book, I still prefer to see art with my own perspective since I enjoy art only as an ordinary person.  So many of us are just that:  ordinary.  Perhaps it is other art critics that Solomon had in mind during the writing. At times I just wanted to quit the book because of the laborious details of every move Rockwell seemed to make.  Instead, I tried to appreciate the hours and hours of research that went into the writing.  That, indeed, is admirable.

The book starts with Rockwell’s youth, education, and of course art education.  He began being paid for his illustrations by the time he was 17 years old.  He enjoyed a long career with Saturday Evening Post, for which most of my generation remembers most.  I do recall going to the mailbox and stumbling along up the driveway, head down, already reading the pages before I hit the doorstep.  The book introduced me to other companies for whom Rockwell worked, particularly the Boy Scouts of America.  He had a long-term contract with them to paint the calendar each year.  Details like that throughout the book kept me listening.  Just when I was bogged down, one of these facts would pop up.

What annoyed me most about the book was the author’s determination to turn Rockwell into a homosexual.  Repeatedly she had to include information about things that made her tend to think he was of abnormal sexual behavior.  She never convinced me.  Also annoying was the repetition of facts already mentioned.  I thought to myself, “You have said that now at least three times.”  In a paper and ink or even eBook edition, those are places I would have glided right over.

I noticed on the Amazon.com site that of 133 reviews, the book, published in Kindle format in 2014 (first paper and ink format in 2013) the readers gave in an average of two and one half stars.  I would award it a three just on all of the amazing research that went into the writing.  If you grew up, as I did, in the 1950’s, you might enjoy the book.  I do know that if I were to travel to Vermont or Massachusetts I would want to visit some of the Rockwell museums.  The end of the book was worth the whole reading.  Rockwell lived a long life and toward the end was unusually rewarded.  However, he did suffer dementia.  He had worked tirelessly in his art studio and there were days when his wife would finally succumb to taking him to the studio where he would sit and do nothing.  He just wanted to see it.  In that respect, I found admiration for the one who depicted ordinary Americans doing what ordinary folks do. American Mirror is certainly an appropriate title.

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2 Comments

  1. Rockwell is surely an important part of the American story. I loved his magazine covers–a whole story before you even opened the magazine.

    • I found the story of his life quite interesting once I learned to get past the author’s obsession with his normal vs abnormal sexual life. It was just plain distracting. I’d guess that you would agree that most artistic people suffer from melancholy streaks and perfectionism.

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