Top critical review
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on December 15, 2001
I've been an illustrator for 40 years. My mentor was a contemporary of Rockwell, also an illustrator and portrait painter who was at the Art Student's League at about the same time as NR. I was all set to like this book after viewing the attractive and articulate author on BookNotes. It turned out to be a chore to read. I'm surprised that Random didn't do more fact checking or editing. It is not so much narrative as it is cut-and-paste word processing. Consider this line for example on page 394: "But at least one son, Jarvis -- who, on finding that he had did not fit particularly well into the Air Force ...." Where are the copy editors when you need them?
Then there are the significant errors, as in the following: [page 209] "First, he recalled briefly the beauty contest he had judged a few years before with Clare Briggs the cartoonist and Nell Brinkley the actress." A simple search on Google will confirm that Nell Brinkley (1886-1944) was also famous as a cartoonist who drew pretty young things for the New York Evening Journal, and not an actress.
On page 300, the author describes a painting of Willie Gillis in church: "In the three pews, shown, only Willie's torso and face are visible; the shoulder of a man in front, and the arm of a man behind, their respective officer and upper enlisted stripes prominent...." This is a curious description coming from someone who taught at the Naval Academy. There is no man shown in front, just the shoulder boards of a US Navy commander. As for the upper enlisted stripes, she should have said hash marks and the distinctive stripes of a First Sergeant (three stripes, two rockers, and a diamond).
The author continually refers to Rockwell's clients as patrons, a term I have never heard used by illustrators or other so-called commercial artists. She also goes to great length to chastise NR for continually accepting more work than he had time to do. This has always been common practice. Some clients bail out after reviewing sketches or comprehensives, or for purely business reasons, which is why kill-fees are used to protect freelancers from spinning their wheels. Anyone who has ever engaged carpenters or other tradesmen knows that they, too, overbook. People who work for themselves have to overbook, if they expect to survive.
The author, as academic, devotes much of the book to psychobabble and pronouncements from on high, making it seem that the Golden Age of Illustration had passed Rockwell by. She refers to the obvious giants such as Pyle, Wyeth, Parrish, and others, who rode in on the waves of four-color process printing as it was first perfected for print production. But consider that Rockwell was the most famous illustrator ever, with an enormous following, and this added years to the Golden Age of Illustration as technical advances continued. It also added many more excellent illustrators, Rockwell's fellow instructors at the Famous Artists School to name a few.
NR's buddies in Arlington, Vermont -- Mead Schaeffer, and John Atherton -- are mentioned often in that period of Rockwell's life, but they are never adequately fleshed out as individuals, Then, we are told that they left Arlington without explaining why.
There are no examples of their work. There are two signatures of photo reproductions reduced to sizes too small to be of much pictorial value. One would really need Arthur Guptill's book on Rockwell, or another compilation of NR's work to understand what the author is talking about as she describes paintings that are either too small to be studied, or do not appear at all.
I wish the text had been cut by a third, elimating all those distant cousins, who add little, or nothing, to the story, and two signatures of full page 4/c process illustrations added, even if it would mean an increase to the cover price.