Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) captured the American spirit by depicting real-life scenes that told a compelling story or conveyed a clear emotion. Both the people he painted and the animals he included in those pictures were drawn from real life. With people, he carefully acted out what he hoped the model would do or would help the person experiment with different positions or expressions. All these looks were captured by a photographer so that when Rockwell went back to the studio he had various photos from which to work.
The effort he went to with animals differed very little from what he would do with people to capture the right movement or action. But as Rockwell writes, the effort required was enormous–with no guarantees:
“Obtaining good photographs of animals for use in pictures is quite a test of your photography or, in my case, my photographer… The person taking the photographs must be extremely quick and ingenious because an animal may assume the pose you want for only a split second [and] you must be ready to snap the photograph at that unpredictable moment. I hold the animal where I hope he will assume the desired pose and my photographer focuses on him. Then I try to induce the model to take the desired pose. When he does I yell at the photographer to shoot. Sometimes the result is a blurred picture but other times I am lucky.” [From Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera by Ron Schick, 2009.]
After considering this, one can’t help but view a Rockwell painting with an animal it in a very different light.
Rockwell’s Love for His Pets Reveal a Caring Man
An anecdote about Rockwell and his own dog is actually very telling. A reporter in The New York Times (11-19-79) quotes Rockwell’s former brother-in-law Howard O’Connor telling a story about him.
Rockwell needed to go to Europe on business, so he had to leave his collie, Raleigh, behind. According to O’Connor, the dog mourned terribly for Rockwell, and the vet felt the dog would surely die.
Norman returned home, picked up Raleigh, and responded to the situation by hand-feeding Raleigh every two hours for days. The dog perked up, put on weight, and regained his health. However, his whiskers remained white and sad-looking.
The story goes that Norman said to the dog, “Listen, Raleigh, I promise I’ll never leave you alone again if you just let the whiskers get back to their natural color.”
In a few short weeks, Raleigh’s whiskers were dark again, and Rockwell maintained his promise to Raleigh, never leaving him again.