By Daniel Zazove & Ramón Campos. April 2023.
Universal artist, or simply an illustrator as he liked to call himself, Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) is a national treasure whose name has become synonymous with the age of innocence in America. His paintings remind all of us of the nostalgia for a simpler and happier time. His drawings transcend mere situations to go further telling us a story; a story with plenty of humanity and gentlemanly charm, all wrapped in his exquisite Rockwell’s hallmark. Passion and mastery are portrayed as human impressions by an artist who loved his subjects. Norman Rockwell always had a way of staying in touch with the feelings and hearts of the American people. He was a free spirit that never signed a lengthy compromising contract so as to keep his creativity uncorseted. From his easel, he has shown interest in freedom and civil rights. Sincere and honest, he wanted to tell ideal American stories, and nobody has ever done it better, all the while knowing that he was painting an America that perhaps no longer exists he painted an America like he wanted it to be; a better and fairer America.
Daniel Parker, Kenneth’s son, just over two years old, was featured as the small boy in the 1927 Christmas cover for The Saturday Evening Post, illustrated by Norman Rodwell.
Mildred Gapen Parker, Kenneth’s wife, was an Art Consultant and had connections with many well-known artists. Several of them received commissions from the Parker Pen Co. Within these collaborations we find Norman Rockwell who was hired to illustrate «Short Stories of the Duofold» by George Parker, a unique book/window display designed for use in all seasons and events such as graduation, school opening, vacations, birthdays, etc. It was possible by making the display in the form of a 16 pages booklet in place of the ordinary easel-back window cards. The Rockwell paintings were lithographed in ten colors. The drawings of the different pages were monthly ad subjects, from January to June and published in the Saturday Evening Post. Dealers had only to display the page corresponding to the current ad. These humble and unsigned drawings have hitherto gone unnoticed by admirers of Norman Rockwell’s work.
Later, Norman Rockwell was commissioned to do Christmas advertising campaigns for Parker in 1928 and 1929. The 1928 ad was spectacularly featured on the two centerfold of the Saturday Evening Post. It is an interesting drawing where Rockwell works exempt from commercial ties so, without even depicting the advertised object, he shows us a human face reminding us that there is always a person behind our dreamed Santa.
In the summer of 1929, Norman himself would be the subject of Parker advertising focused on their dealers and sales force.
In the same year, Santa again, now a Rockwell specialty, would be the reason for the 1929 Parker Christmas advertising campaign. Rockwell’s art featured an endearing, good-natured, smiling Santa taking note of the good girls’ and boys’ gifts while writing with the recently introduced streamlined Duofold Moderne Black and Pearl. The ad showcased much of the Parker desk sets collection, led by the Imperial set desk. The original Rockwell paintings hung in the lobby of the old Parker office building.
As usual, the Parker Advertising Programs included similar displays to show off in their dealers’ windows.
Decades passed for them to meet again in 1959 and this time for an advertising campaign about the Parker «61» of that year. The contract with Rockwell was for three drawings for which Parker paid a total of $12,000.
Rockwell captured the beginning of this ad in his diary dated June 5, 1959: «Attack of guilt over my neglected work. So, I drive up to Pittsfield High School to select models for a Parker pen ad. The dean of girls, Miss Rosemary Cummings, showed me around and I picked out seven girls. I only need three, but it’s hard to tell which ones are right for the picture until I set up the pose. I’ll take the photographs tomorrow…»
Tom Rockwell who took the notes described how his father set up this Parker ad in 1959 more or less as a joke. In the process, he recorded something important about the way Rockwell ads were born. Rockwell set up the scene like a stage director. Then, like an actor, he communicated his own enthusiasm. He was creating the moment he wanted to capture. Here, as well as in the sketching or painting, Norman Rockwell was a great artist. Pictures for Parker pen ad. Three college girls standing together, oohing and aahing over new Parker pen sent to one of them by her father. Commotion. Pop arranging their heads, shoulders, hands, wrapping of pen, card from father, urging models on. Pop: «You are excited. Lift your eyebrows. Up. Up. Oh boy, look what I’ve got! Daddy sent me a beautiful, beautiful Parker 61 pen. These notes describe the artist at work in one of his major areas of illustration: advertising.