50,000 Norman Rockwell Photographs Now Digitized and Available Online

rfk rockwell

Ref­er­ence pho­to for Nor­man Rockwell’s por­trait of Robert F. Kennedy, c. 1968. Cour­tesy of the Nor­man Rock­well Muse­um Col­lec­tions.

What­ev­er you think of Nor­man Rock­well’s paint­ings and illus­tra­tions, you can’t deny them the sta­tus of endur­ing Amer­i­cana. For my mon­ey, Rock­well’s images cer­tain­ly make for more inter­est­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the cul­ture than those of, say, Thomas Kinkade. But even if you have lit­tle inter­est in the Amer­i­ca Rock­well cre­at­ed on paper and can­vas, you’ll sure­ly find com­pelling the Amer­i­ca he cap­tured in pho­tographs. We now have unprece­dent­ed access to these thanks to a $150,000 grant from the Insti­tute of Muse­um and Library Ser­vices that has enabled the Nor­man Rock­well Muse­um to dig­i­tize what they call the Nor­man Rock­well Pho­to­graph­ic Print Col­lec­tion: approx­i­mate­ly 50,000 images that, accord­ing to archivist Venus Van Ness, “pro­vide a unique win­dow into Mr. Rockwell’s work­ing process, his per­son­al life, and the times in which he lived.”


Ref­er­ence pho­to for “Por­trait of a Geisha Girl,” Pan Amer­i­can- Japan (1956)

These images include “ref­er­ence pho­tos Rock­well used to com­pose his paint­ings, pho­tos of work in progress, and can­did shots of him work­ing and inter­act­ing with John Wayne, Ann-Mar­gret, Pres­i­dents Dwight D. Eisen­how­er and John F. Kennedy, and many oth­er twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry icons who posed for the artist in his Stock­bridge stu­dio, on loca­tion at a movie set, at the White House, or — as in the case of Kennedy — at his Hyan­nis Port home on Cape Cod.”

You can browse them on this page, which dis­plays the search results for the word “pho­to­graph” in the Nor­man Rock­well Muse­um’s archives. And if you want to dig up those pho­tos of Wayne, Ann-Mar­gret, Kennedy, or oth­er icons of what they call the Amer­i­can cen­tu­ry, you can also add par­tic­u­lar terms to search for spe­cif­ic sub­jects. Or you can even search for spe­cif­ic places, for instance Rock­well’s many ref­er­ence pho­tos for the ads he did for flights to Japan by Pan Am — nat­u­ral­ly, the icon­i­cal­ly Amer­i­can air­line.

Norman Rockwell and Ann-Margret

Ref­er­ence pho­to of Nor­man Rockwell’s Por­trait of Ann-Mar­gret, c. 1965.

“To any­one who saw the exhi­bi­tion Nor­man Rock­well: Behind the Cam­era, which was orga­nized by the Nor­man Rock­well Muse­um and opened at the Brook­lyn Muse­um in Novem­ber 2010,” writes Hyper­al­ler­gic’s Ben­jamin Sut­ton, “the impor­tance of pho­tog­ra­phy to Rockwell’s prac­tice is not news. That show jux­ta­posed some of Rockwell’s best known paint­ings like ‘New Kids in the Neigh­bor­hood’ (1967) and ‘Boy in a Din­ing Car’ (1946) with the many, many stu­dio and doc­u­men­tary pho­tos the artist took and spliced togeth­er before putting pen­cil to paper or paint­brush to can­vas.” But now “the pub­lic and art his­to­ri­ans can get a bet­ter sense of the labo­ri­ous pre­lim­i­nary pho­tog­ra­phy work that went into each of Rockwell’s images, and the excep­tion­al lev­el of access he was giv­en to his sub­jects.” And though the process of brows­ing them may remain tricky for the time being, rest assured that, accord­ing to the offi­cial site, “the Museum’s new dig­i­tal expe­ri­ences project is get­ting under­way with sup­port from yet anoth­er IMLS match­ing grant award­ed in Sep­tem­ber.” And so Amer­i­can inno­va­tion con­tin­ues, on a lev­el Rock­well could nev­er have imag­ined.

This post comes via Hyper­al­ler­gic, where you can see more pho­tos in a nice, large for­mat.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Nor­man Rockwell’s Type­writ­ten Recipe for His Favorite Oat­meal Cook­ies

Yale Launch­es an Archive of 170,000 Pho­tographs Doc­u­ment­ing the Great Depres­sion

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Lud­wig Wittgen­stein Dis­played by Archives at Cam­bridge

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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