Sunday, June 12, 2011

"Dear Mr. Rockwell: You painted one of my sons black."

From the Norman Rockwell fan mail archive:


“Dear Mr. Rockwell,
Let me start this letter by telling you that I am the mother of two of the boys that posed for the 1974 Boy Scout Calendar.

“This is a very difficult letter to write as my boys happen to be twins and you painted one of them ‘black.’ Of course, they are both ‘white.’




“The boys have been eagerly awaiting the calendars and so have all our friends. Yesterday I received 20 copies I had requested from Brown & Bigelow and I haven’t had the courage to show it to them.

“I realize nothing can be done now but maybe you could write Steve (the one you painted black) a little note of apology so he’ll know it was a mistake. Steve happens to want to be an artist and he has some talent (he’s been drawing since he was around 2 yr. of age). A note from you would mean a lot. He even has your book, “60 Years in Retrospect.”

“The twins never even cashed your check as they are saving them as a souvenir of the day they posed for you.

“Mr. Rockwell, if there’s anything you can say to Steve to explain this I would be very grateful.

Yours sincerely,
Jennie Negron”


For the 1975 calendar, Norman Rockwell cast an African-American young man for the role.

22 comments:

Terry said...

One hardly knows what to say about this. It's just...baffling in so many ways.

Doug Holder said...

Was the awning the same color as the ground?

Leslie Bishop said...

What a great opportunity to have explained the term "artistic license!' I wonder if Mr. Rockwell ever responded to the mother's letter.

Scorchfield said...

Sure you do not believe me, but I laughed heartily! :)

James Gurney said...

Rockwell normally took great pains to get the right model (He said "Spare the model, spoil the picture"). But at times he transformed bank presidents into pirates and such. On this job I'm guessing he must have been chasing a deadline and using the reference loosely, but must have neglected to explain the situation to the family. Given Rockwell's stature, being a model was a big event in everyone's life.

maxwest said...

I see this more as a WTF moment rather than one of someone's hidden racism.

Stephen Southerland said...

Imagine the confusion if NR used Michael Jackson for a model.

the plummer said...

I'm actually having the biggest chuckle over the letter-writer's last name. Oh the irony...

Michael Oxley said...

Dear Mrs. Negron,

Consider the gift I've given you, your sons and your friends and family. It's quite a rare gift so treasure it in the years to come.

It is the gift of a change of perspective. Consider how your lives would be changed if one of your sons were 'black'.

You're welcome.

N. Rockwell

rahotep said...

Highly ironic surname of the plaintiff, given the nature of the complaint. Political Correctness, got to hate it!

ZZDas said...

I was staring at the image for a while trying to find out where the hell was the "black boy", and could only see some kids in a darker area therefore painted with a darker skin tone ...people will see what they want to see...
@the plummer...Negron...I didn't even get till the end of the letter to see this, what a catch!

youngstudios said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
youngstudios said...

Ah racisism. Im white but the phrase "write him a little apology" seems like it would be horrible for an african american to read.

"haven't had the courage to show it to them"

rockwell was a genius, if this was his interpretation then im sure this was the best way for it to be painted. rather than seeing blacks and white, he painted a scene of children.

can't be too harsh on her though, it was a very diffrent time.not that it's right though.

i have the book also,(60 years in retrospect) good book. i recommend buying it.
though "Norman Rockwell illustrator" is better.
reminds me of imaginative realism ;)

Steven K said...

Like too many people - including too many art students - Mrs. Negron did not understand the difference between illustration and portraiture, nor the role of reference in creating illustration. Rockwell, or some other knowledgeable person, might have gently explained that her children were not posing for a portrait, and that it was never his intention to paint the portraits of either, or both, of them. Rather, Rockwell posed them as the reference for fictional characters in a fictional scene. On another occasion, her son might just as easily have wound up as a Persian thief, London pickpocket, Union bugler or Confederate drummer. While one might understand her disappointment, this was never intended nor commissioned as a portrait of her sons, but as an illustration for the Boy Scouts. As for her son Steve, he received an invaluable lesson about art and illustration, and the role of the model and reference in creating a picture, if he could get past his and his mother's disappointment.

meera said...

Loved the post -- so many gems in there !!!

Sketching Artist said...

I too had a chuckle over the last name. I actually thought the whole thing quite funny. I wonder if Mr Rockwell's letter to Steve talked about "artistic licensing"

i, me said...

"write him a little apology" seems like it would be horrible for an african american to read.

really, so what if the races were reversed? Should I prepare myself for a lecture about 'white privilege"

can't be too harsh on her though, it was a very diffrent time.not that it's right though.
how kind of you....

here is my racist two cents:
Rockwell was very good until he married his third wife, a radical leftist who politicized his hitherto unpolitical art that came from the heart.

Some of his paintings in that period were good, like "a problem we all live with" but, I ask the white, self righteous liberals, did YOU live with that problem. My brothers and sisters had to attend forced diversity schools during the busing era, white kids would get beat up (including my brother and sisters) and the school, and, of course, the media, would ignore it- it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why. By the time I got old enough my family became a white flight statistic and my neighborhood, like so many in cities, was destroyed.


Lastly, there is something false about doing that, like the photoshopped in blacks on many college campus brochures (we embrace diversity!)

Mike Porter said...

I have a book about Rockwell that shows how he created many of his paintings or illustrations. The book is full of photographs of his model set ups and props.
He rarely painted the people just like he posed. Still in those times in our country, this would be considered a polite inquiry. Harder to understand with younger people today.

Brian Vasilik said...

Since the boy is in the shadow of the tent he looks like he is African American. I like how the darker silhouettes make the lighter figures stand out.

sara star said...

i,me:

You also weren't N. Rockwell's portrait or history model. But isn't it more lovely that he painted the black and white children breaking bread together in peace rather than either beating the other one up?

Integration was a hard time, but also primary school is always a hard time for some child in the school. Would it have made you feel better if a white child had beat you up instead? That was my experience as a white child, I was beat up by other white children. Based on my experience, I doubt race had much of anything to do with it. Children can be wonderful, they can also be cruel. It has nothing to do with race, integration or politics. Its just a sad truth of human nature.

Michael said...

Wow. That is.. ..I have no words.

Anonymous said...

Until it was pointed out that one of the scouts was black, I never noticed. I saw an illustration of the Scouts! I saw reverence, unity, service, the outdoors, etc... I understand the mothers situation, however, as pointed out, this is an illustration of Scouting, not a portrait of those particular scouts! I'm sorry, but the artist's interpretation overrides accuracy on this one.