Berkshire Life Insurance Company, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, circa 1960
Gifted to the present owner from the above, 1963
We are grateful to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts for providing the following essay.
In 1958, Rockwell was commissioned by Berkshire Life Insurance Company to paint a mural-sized painting for their 100th anniversary. The painting would picture Pittsfield's main thoroughfare, including Berkshire Life's first home office at 28 North Street. It would also depict such famous individuals as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes, who were living in or near Pittsfield around 1851, the year the company was founded. Rockwell also intended to include portraits of some of the company's officers among the faces in the crowd.
It's a holiday and the street is thronged with people. In the park Professor So-and-so is conducting a balloon ascension. According to Berkshire Life Insurance Company, "Pittsfield was a 'balloon race start center' in the late 1800s, and the releasing of doves was a traditional party of the starting process---thus the use of the balloon as a focus in the mural." A brass band is marching up the street. Horses are rearing, children playing tag, et cetera. Behind the buildings are the green hills of Berkshire County.
To accommodate the massive six-by-seventeen-and-a-half foot painting, Rockwell had an old icehouse on his property renovated to use as a studio for the project. To do preliminary sketches of the street, he positioned himself at the top of a former Berkshire Life home office at the corner of Pittsfield's North and West Streets. Architect Roy Hare assisted with drafting the basic architectural framework of the buildings and street.
In June 1959, Rockwell prepared this preliminary color sketch, but the project, scheduled for completion by summer of 1960, was derailed when on August 25th Rockwell's wife Mary died suddenly. Depression and a backlog of pressing commitments prevented him from further work on the painting. Rockwell asked illustrator and muralist Dean Cornwell to complete the painting and sent him the work he had done thus far, but Cornwell died suddenly two months later. Muralist Clifford Young was then commissioned by Berkshire Life to complete the painting, which now hangs in the cafeteria of the home office building in Pittsfield.
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