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Norman Rockwell’s Best Friends
New exhibition focuses on dogs’ role
The Veterinarian, Norman Rockwell, 1961.

It’s hard to imagine the world of Norman Rockwell (1894–1978) without the sweet, loyal presence of dogs. Sleeping peacefully, waiting patiently or eagerly joining in children’s adventures, dogs were an abiding presence in his Saturday Evening Post cover paintings, story illustrations, advertisements and family Christmas cards throughout his career. They were also constant companions in Rockwell’s life—from his own dogs to neighbors’ pups, borrowed as models.

The current installation, “It’s a Dog’s Life: Norman Rockwell Paints Man’s Best Friend” at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., explores the artist’s furry muses through original artworks, photographs and archival materials that offer insights into his artistic goals and working methods.

“His fondness for dogs comes through when you look through photos of him in his home and around his studio,” says Joyce K. Schiller, PhD, curator for the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies. “One of my favorite ones is Rockwell painting at his easel with his last dog, Pitter, asleep on the floor next to him.” This image is on display in “It’s a Dog’s Life,” which runs through Nov. 11, 2011.

Rockwell didn’t say much about his habit of including dogs in his work publicly or in his correspondence, Schiller explains. But he did include a little on the subject in an advanced illustration course written in the 1940s and included in Rockwell on Rockwell: How I Make A Picture (Watson-Guptill Publishers; Famous Artists School, 1979).

“Animals are often the center of interest in story telling pictures and at other times they can be included naturally in a picture. In such cases, they are very appealing and helpful,” he writes. But, he also adds, “I do not like to see an appealing animal put into a picture just to save the job.”

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Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom. lisawogan.com

The Veterinarian, Norman Rockwell, 1961. Display advertisement for The Upjohn Company Collection of Pfizer Inc. ©NRELC: Niles, IL

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