Norman Rockwell met Kenneth J. Stuart, Sr., in 1943, soon after he became the art editor atThe Saturday Evening Post. Upon his arrival at The Post, Stuart invigorated the 200-year-old magazine with a new vision for its overall look and feel. He was deeply influenced by the American Scene painting of the 1930s, and wanted The Post’s cover to exude Americana, to become “a sort of contemporary Currier and Ives created by top illustrators such as Falter, Dohanos, Atherton and, of course, Norman Rockwell” (Karal Ann Marling, Norman Rockwell, New York, 1997, p. 72). To achieve this new direction, Stuart adopted several new policies, the first of which was to allow his artists work in the style and iconography they preferred, regardless of whether or not it befitted the publication’s traditional aesthetic. A new layout for the cover, also introduced by Stuart, encouraged artists to render scenes with a more detailed and comprehensive background. These changes immediately provided Rockwell with a new, more flexible forum in which his distinctive style of visual storytelling could flourish.


Rockwell painted his first cover for The Post in 1916. He would remain a fixture of the publication for the next several decades, rising to become its most popular and successful illustrator. By the mid-1940s, the Rockwell name had become almost synonymous with Post covers as he honed his technique, and gradually adopted more sophisticated subject matter and compositional design; he began to craft the nostalgic images infused with warmth and humor for which he is now best known. This highly productive and creative period for the artist coincided with the onset of his personal and professional relationship with Stuart in 1943.



Prior to joining The Post, Stuart worked as an illustrator himself, a professional background that uniquely positioned him in this new role. Stuart quickly developed a close rapport with the coterie of Post illustrators, including Rockwell, who felt the new editor uniquely understood them and the challenges their profession presented. Rockwell plainly recounted his admiration for Stuart in his memoir, calling him, “My favorite art editor. Let’s me do my own work, doesn’t hold me back or try to paint the picture himself (some art editors want to get in on every brushstroke). But Ken’s helpful. Always arranging things for me. Makes valuable suggestions. He gives me the feeling that he believes in me and only wants to help me realize my own ideas. Ben Hibbs once said that an editor’s job is to create an atmosphere in which artists and writers can do their best creative work. That’s what Ken does. To perfection” (Norman Rockwell as told to Tom Rockwell, My Adventures as an Illustrator, p. 375).

 

It is clear that professional relationship Rockwell and Stuart shared was a close one. In many instances Stuart and Rockwell discussed potential cover subjects months in advance of deadlines, writing letters back and forth with notes for improvements or changes in direction. Stuart was also known to make suggestions to Rockwell and other artists for props, settings and sometimes an overall story. Although each of Rockwell’s paintings is an indisputable expression of his great technical ability and truly unique imagination, his process always involved a degree of collaboration with his favorite editor.

 

Over the years of their many years together, Rockwell also developed a close relationship with Stuart and his wife, Katharine. They are the subjects of a number of Rockwell’s portraits, putting the couple in company with the public figures he typically painted such as Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Jr., and India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Rockwell often gave examples of his work—finished paintings, color studies and drawings—as gifts to friends, colleagues, and individuals who particularly admired them. Kenneth and Katharine acquired their impressive collection in this manner. Among the works Rockwell fondly gave the Stuarts is the artist’s poignant masterpiece, Saying Grace, which hung in the editor’s office atThe Post and later in the dining room of his family’s home. Representing many of the finest moments in Rockwell’s oeuvre, The Stuart Family Collection is a testament to not only the unique bond Rockwell and Stuart shared, but also to the great success they achieved working in collaboration with one another over the course of their 18 years together at The Post.

Rockwell made the deep respect and gratitude he felt for Stuart, and the pivotal contribution the editor made to his career, abundantly clear in the numerous letters he exchanged with Stuart over the years: “I just want to put down in a letter, he wrote to Stuart in 1957, “what I have been feeling so long—and that is how wonderfully cooperative you have been. The encouragement and freedom you give me in my work shows what a great impresario you are. It is great to feel that your art editor is one hundred per cent for you, and is a real friend. This may sound a bit flowery, but it is completely sincere, and I do want to express my thanks to you” (May 1, 1957, Norman Rockwell Archives, Stockbridge, Massachusetts).

American Art Auction | 04 Dec 2013 | New York

Tags: American Art, New York