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Norman Rockwell’s Best Friends

New exhibition focuses on dogs’ role
By Lisa Wogan, July 2011, Updated September 2021
Rockwell in his studio; photo by Louis Lamone, n.d.

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 Veterinarian, Norman Rockwell, 1961.

The 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.”


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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.”

Norman Rockwell: Behind the Paintings

Norman Rockwell captured the essence of middle-class, post-WWII America like few other artists before or since. Imagine our surprise—and interest—when we learned that Rockwell orchestrated meticulously composed photographs and used them as references for his iconic art. Many of those photos and their corresponding artwork are now on display at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., in an exhibit titled Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, and others can be found in the museum’s archives. With help from the museum’s talented professionals, who generously searched its collection for good examples, we share a few of the dog-related pairings with you here. For more: Norman Rockwell Museum

All photos and art are courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum and used with permission; All photographs are licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, Ill. and are from the permanent collection of Norman Rockwell Museum

Photo of Norman and Mary Rockwell (and dog) sitting on the steps of his Lord Kitchener Road, New Rochelle studio, c. 1931. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. ©NRELC: Niles, IL.


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

Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of several books including Dog Park Wisdom.