Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Norman Rockwell talks about "Family Tree"



When Norman Rockwell set out to write his 1960 memoir "My Adventures as an Illustrator," he began by talking into a dictaphone recorder with his son Thomas. The soundtrack of this video is an excerpt of that audio.

At the time he was working on the Saturday Evening Post cover "Family Tree." He admits that he swiped the tree design from Arthur Rackham.

Then he talks about the many adjustments he was making to the painting. The audio gives a sense of how conscientious Rockwell was about even the smallest details, and it also reveals how much he sought other peoples' judgment and approval.


"I put the red bandana or the effect of red on the son of the Indian...."

"Tomorrow I'll get to work on the pirate and his Spanish girlfriend and make all of her sort of a greenish, grayish, bluish sort of a haze. She's kind of the mystery woman of the whole thing. Don't you think that green on her is awful good, with the bright red lips?"


"And I took (psychologist Erik) Erikson's suggestion and I'm going to have gray, sort of opaque gray eyes on the pirate, coal gray eyes, and his hair is brown, and so that leaves the Spanish girl with the black for sure. The black will skip from the Spanish girl up to the pirate's son, and there will be no black on the pirate at all.

The painting went through many more changes after the recording.
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Rockwell devotes an entire chapter in his book, My Adventures as an Illustrator to a case history of the changes the painting went through.


The Norman Rockwell Museum's page about their audio archive. If you go to the museum, they'll let you listen to the raw audio. I've tried sampling some of it, and Rockwell tells a lot of stories that aren't in his book.

10 comments:

cg said...

I'm not sure I understand the negative (reversed) images in this post - did I miss something?

James Gurney said...

CG, those are details of the "Family Tree" painting, showing the faces that Rockwell was talking about in the audio. The gag was to show a face that stayed really similar down through the generations, so that the kid at the top of the tree could trace his lineage back to illustrious pirates and soldiers.

cg said...

Hmm, the images appear black on my screen, like a film negative ...

cg said...

Wow, I just looked at this post on Firefox and everything is normal looking, as you described it. On Safari, every image in this post (only) looks like a photo negative - weird! First time that's happened ...

James Gurney said...

CG, wow, that' weird. I'm on Chrome and it looks OK, and it comes out fine on our iPad, which I think is on Safari. Not sure what's different about it.

Retta said...

Mine is Safari, and shows the photo negative look also. Interesting in spite of that, since I've long enjoyed Normal Rockwell.

Tom Hart said...

For what it's worth, today when I opened the post in Explorer, the images didn't load at all. Switching over to Chrome, they loaded fine. I wonder if Google/Blogger has tweaked something that's not compatible with some browsers.

Craig Banholzer said...

Gee, I guess Firefox is the way to go! Anyway, such a moving post, especially being familiar with the chapter in the book, which to me is the greatest of all testaments to Rockwell's status as a true artist. He literally lost sleep over the smallest details, and lived in his work. Thanks.

John Barrows said...

Thank you, James.

Amy Johnson Crow said...

I've sometimes wondered if Norman Rockwell did this from imagination or based on his own tree. Thanks for sharing this insight! I've featured your post in this week's "What We Are Reading" on the Ancestry.com blog: http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/07/11/what-we-are-reading-july-11-edition/ Thanks for the good read!