Dyslexia and storytelling seem to go hand ind hand, whether it’s a best selling novelist, Fortune 500 CEO, or illustrators.

Norman Rockwell, hailed by many as America’s greatest iconic illustrator, is probably part of this club.

“Dear fragile Norman Rockwell. He grew up in a series of cramped apartments and shabby boardinghouses in Upper Manhattan, skinny, weak-chinned, squinty, an abysmal student, inept at math, probably dyslexic, neglected by his parents, overshadowed by a handsome, athletic older brother, and for the rest of his life was uncertain of himself and modest to a fault.”

-Garrison Keiller

Virtually all of Norman Rockwell’s biographers like to point out that his childhood wasn’t idyllic.

And from the New York Times Book Review of Deborah Solomon’s Rockwell biography:

“Despite the ubiquitous fishing poles and helter-skelter exploits of the hyperactive boys in his paintings, Rockwell was a shy and spindly indoor kid who, by his own admission, “didn’t know a red maple from a brown bear.” Probably dyslexic, he could do nothing well in school—Solomon calls his transcript “an alarming document”—except for his drawing.”


Norman Rockwell painted Outside the Principal’s Office in 1953. Norman said Mary Whelan was his favorite model and the painting captured his interest in conveying a girl who bested a classmate after a fight. After initially trying to smear charcoal on Mary’s eye to get the appearance right, he ended up advertising for a black eye ($5) and after many joking responses, he found an authentic ripe one which helped him finish the painting. Read more by clicking the image.


But Rockwell himself said why he chose to paint what did:

“Maybe as I grew up and found the world wasn’t the perfect place I had thought it to be, I unconsciously decided that if it wasn’t an ideal world, it should be, and so painted only the ideal aspects of it.”

Although finances were always stretched in Norman’s childhood, he was first introduced to sketching by his salesman father. His grandfather had apparently been a painter of portraits in his time, but never found much professional success. Nevertheless, the details in his grandfather’s portraits always fascinated him and it was common for him to spend evenings with his father, sketching simple scenes from the magazines that arrived at his home every week. Around Christmas time, his father would read Dickens aloud and Norman would illustrate a picture that he thought would match the stories (Read more)

Determined to become an illustrator at the age of 15, Norman dropped out of high school and joined the Art Students League to study illustration (for those of you who don’t know, the difference between illustration and fine art is that an illustrator wants to convey a story, whereas fine art can simply be art for art’s sake).

Here is Rockwell’s earliest known illustration:


It’s based on a poem called The Deserted Village. It won a prize.


Norman received his first paid commission at the age of 17 and his art career rapidly took off as he began working for the Saturday Evening Post as well as serving as art director for Boy’s Life. Recently his painting Saying Grace (below) sold at auction for $46 million to an unknown buyer. Rockwell had said he was inspired by a Saturday Evening Post reader who saw a Mennonite family praying in a restaurant. Interestingly, it was not uncommon for Rockwell to gift his paintings to friends and families – as he said he was paid for the paintings already when it was used in magazines.


Norman Rockwell’s 1951 painting Saying Grace sold for $46 million Wednesday — a record for the artist


Another popular painting of Rockwell’s is his Thanksgiving: Mother and Son Peeling Potatoes

A more humorous Thankgiving paintings
is Cousin Reginald Catches the Thanksgiving

Norman Rockwell was known for his social conscious paintings. He painted this Golden Rule painting in 1961. Said Rockwell, “I had tried to depict all the peoples of the world gathered together. That is just what I wanted to express about the Golden Rule.”

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