The defamation of Norman Rockwell

Deborah Solomon's book, "American Mirror, The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell," released this fall by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, has been the basis of numerous reviews in the national media. The 493-page book is a biography of the late illustrator's life and art.

The author, who was recently interviewed on the Danny Frank Show, at Manchester's GNAT-TV, stated that she had worked with the Rockwell family in preparing her manuscript. What was unexpected by the family were the sordid comments about their famous father and grandfather, who died in 1978, that are peppered throughout Solomon's work.

Rockwell, who lived and worked in Arlington, (my adopted home town) from 1938 until 1953, is described as having possible mental illness, pedophilia tendencies, aversions to females, deep attractiveness towards males and a host of other negative personality traits.

The only published criticism has come from the Rockwell family through their Poughkeepsie, N.Y. agency. As noted in the Associated Press: " The family of Norman Rockwell is taking exception to a new biography of the American illustrator, saying it contains numerous inaccuracies and poses a "phantom theory" about his sexuality."

In addition to other comments the AP story also noted that the Rockwell family pointed out 96 factual errors and that there was no immediate comment from the publisher to refute the claim.

Interesting though was the comment on Solomon's work by the Norman Rockwell Museum, in Stockbridge, MA. The AP noted: "Laurie Norton Moffatt, the Museum's director called the book, 'a well-researched and written biography that presents many unique themes and interpretations about the artist.'"

Don Trachte, Jr. of Sandgate, who hosted a reunion of Rockwell's Arlington models in August 2010, was quoted in the summer, 2010 Stratton Magazine, as saying "Arlingtonians feel ownership and justifiable pride in knowing that they and their relatives posed for Norman Rockwell during the time he produced some of his finest work."

The only printed comment in Vermont, in Rockwell's defense, came from his son, Thomas Rockwell, in a letter he wrote to the Editor of the Manchester Journal, on December 27, 2013: "The most egregious of her claims is that Norman Rockwell had pedophilic impulses that made their way into his art (p. 318). Her suggestions and allegations are nothing more than unadorned conjecture. She simply has no evidence to back up any of her outrageous claims. She now says that this topic is only a tiny part of her book, but my daughter and I found 68 references to her phantom theories."

Rockwell, who passed away, at age 84, in Stockbridge, Mass., cannot defend his work or his private life. I wonder how he would have responded to the following author's questions: 1) Of the 320 plus Saturday Evening Post covers, why do you show mostly male figures? 2) What exactly is going on in the illustration between the little boy and the policeman in the illustration," The Runaway"? 3) What are we to assume in the illustration, "Before the Shot", of the little boy in a doctor's office with his pants partially pulled down? 4) The teenage girl, in the illustration, "Girl at Mirror", was your model really a boy? 5) When you took your trip to England with your sons and wife, Mary Barstow, was it in fact not a vacation but to have Mary obtain an abortion in Great Britain? 6) Why are you seeing psychiatrists, in Stockbridge, Mass? 7) Why do you go on overnight camping trips with men only? Solomon, on the Frank show, refused to respond to any questions about the Rockwell family's criticisms of her book.

As a society, in 2014, we have discarded the long held taboos of mental illness, abortion and homosexuality. Why then is it necessary for the author to weave these topics into her otherwise excellent depiction of a former Vermonter's world recognized achievements? What makes me livid is the fact that there has been no outpouring of criticism of Solomon's work from residents of Arlington, Bennington County or the State of Vermont--defending this 20th Century Vermont Legend?

In the not too distant future, Deborah Solomon's $28 book will be used as a doorstop. Meanwhile, Norman Rockwell's work will continue to be admired by future generations wishing to learn about life in America during the Great Depression, WWII and the Civil Rights Movement. Perhaps, the recent purchase of Rockwell's painting, "Saying Grace," for $47 million, could have been a bargain? What will take longer to dismiss is the lack of support from Vermonters who had known this icon and now stand silently by, as his life is being maligned.

Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington.


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