Norman, You Rock (well)!
Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms Plates--Frame 1 of 2
Where Norman Rockwell Lived and Painted for a Season
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- The Four Freedoms--From FDR to Norman Rockwell to eB...
The author creates a connect-the-dots link involving a concept FDR introduced in a 1941 State of the Union speech, the genius of Norman Rockwell and his Americana genre, and the author's work on eBay.
I love small town America.
Cities have their unique appeal, but any attraction or affinity I have for urban life is always at a distance. I get too close, and I see ugly.
Not so with small towns. The closer I get, the more I want to be intimately drawn in.
The German Shepherd barking at me as I invade his territory in front of the picket fence doesn't phase me. He, too, is a puzzle piece that fits nicely into this rustic mosaic of old school charm that slowly and reluctantly succumbs to town hall councilmen clamoring for gentrification. Urban sprawl is a modern day reality. Thankfully, there's always enough resistance from the baby boomers to keep things in check.
In 1939, Norman Rockwell decided to leave the city with his wife, Mary, and their three boys. The family settled down in the small town of Arlington, Vermont. Rockwell's paintings began to reflect small town life in America. Arguably, he produced some of his most distinguished and noteworthy creations during this period.
1943 was a banner year for Norman Rockwell. Inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt's memorable and rousing address to Congress, Rockwell painstakingly created the Four Freedoms paintings.
Not long after, reproductions of the paintings appeared in four consecutive issues of the Saturday Evening Post along with brilliant essays by contemporary writers. Just about every family in the country subscribed to the Post, it seemed, and Rockwell's true-to-life Americana renderings proved extremely popular. The four paintings--Freedom of Speech; Freedom of Worship; Freedom from Want; and Freedom from Fear--aroused the spirit of national patriotism, rugged individualism, commitment to family, and the pioneer adherence to religious tolerance.
Rockwell's works toured across the country in a rousing exhibition that was jointly sponsored by the U.S. Treasury Department and the Saturday Evening Post.The accompanying sale of war bonds raised more than $130 million for the war effort.
1 man with vision, aplomb, and artistic genius...
$130 million dollars...
Norman Rockwell's Four Freedom Plates--Frame 2 of 2
Regarding Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms paintings, which of the following might be true for you?
...there is a season...
Fast forward seventy years...
The scene is my upstairs bedroom/office.
The phone rings, and the seasoned voice of a man who's seen all of seventy years resonates over the line.
He asks me if I still have the pair of frames containing the four Rockwell plates for sale.
Somewhat startled because the large frames had been stashed away in our small computer room for the longest time, along with several boxes of eBay inventory--let's call it what it is: clutter!--I respond in an uneven voice, one that is obviously pregnant with question marks, "Uh...yes! Yes, I still have them."
Thus begins a half-hour-long conversation. I discover that his wife had been taking a computer class and somehow got wind of an advertisement I'd posted online for these two magnificent framed sets of Norman Rockwell plates.
During our phone exchange, I get the distinct impression that this is no fly-by-night customer and that he's serious about purchasing these frames. I've never put these up on the official eBay site because of my inexperience with shipping heavy items. I thus posted them on the local Craigslist as well as eBay Classifieds, hoping that I could avoid the hassle of shipping by selling the framed set of plates to a nearby resident. Over time, with no nibbles, I had reduced the price drastically to the point where any potential sale would render a rather nominal profit margin.
At this point in the process, my wife would be glad just to get rid of the large items, so call me a motivated seller.
But, ironically, on the line with me is a customer from clear across the country...specifically, from the very area where Rockwell and his family had lived for several years.
The intrigue of it all rises within me. Of course, I'm always excited about a possible sale, but I'm sensing that there's something more to this.
I raise a vital point about shipping. "You know, sir," I hesitantly begin, "I honestly have no idea how to go about shipping heavy items like these, and I would have to check with local shipping vendors before I could provide you with a quote."
"Oh, yes, I totally understand," the gentleman replies. "In my work, I do a lot of cross-country shipping, and I am well acquainted with how expensive it can be."
Wow! He didn't even skip a beat. This guy's for real!
Long story short, I tell him that I will take the two frames downtown and get some estimates and then get back to him.
So that's what I do. Ultimately, after doing some research and in-person interviews, I decide to go with the Postal Express outfit in Walla Walla. It's definitely a reputable business and, in recent local newspaper polls, has received glowing raves from the country populace.
The packaging cost is reasonable, but the shipping, as expected, is simply ridiculous! Still, I am a man of my word and promptly call the customer back.
"As we discussed, Gene," I begin, "the price of the two-frame set of four Rockwell plates is $60."
"That's right," he replies.
"Well...I knew the packaging and shipping costs would be pretty high, but I was still pretty shocked at the estimate they gave me."
I wait for some kind of reaction but receive nothing.
So I continue.
"The labor and packaging costs amount to a little over $50..."
Again, I pause. A couple of heartbeats this time. Again, nothing.
"...But the shipping cost via UPS ground comes to $140!"
No sighs. No blustering. No forced air through pinched lips.
The news doesn't phase this laid back New Englander. Instead, Gene tells me that this amount is a ballpark figure that he'd anticipated.
Yeah, but a total cost of $250? The ballpark must be Yankee Stadium!
Model Rose Hoyt
Rose Hoyt in Another Freedom Painting
...and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
My curiosity is boiling over at this time, and so I ask Gene about the special significance that these Rockwell plates have for him.
He politely explains that he has two sons. He and his wife already have in their possession one set of four of these commemorative plates reserved for one son. But they had been looking high and low for a second set for their second son.
Our framed plates were thus an attractive and timely set for Gene and his wife.
He goes on to share with me that his mother, Rose Hoyt, as was the case with many of the residents of Arlington, Vermont, had been a model for several of Norman Rockwell's paintings. Indeed, her face and braided hairstyle appear on the FREEDOM OF WORSHIP plate. In the painting, she is second from the left and holding rosary beads.
Rockwell also commissioned Rose to pose for his FREEDOM OF SPEECH painting. That's Rose to the far left, peeking from behind an elderly gentleman.
As a young boy, Gene himself was used in a couple of paintings. But he humbly dwells on this for just a heartbeat, his attention focused squarely on the wonderful memories of his mother.
I couldn't help but empathetically share in the moment as I thought of my own mother, soon to be 80 years of age. Gene's mother had long since passed on, but here I was, reveling with this loving and grateful son in a moment of extreme tribute to his beloved mother, forever immortalized in Norman Rockwell's paintings.
Interesting Tidbits About Rose Willis Hoyt
- Along with her husband, Cyril, Rose Hoyt raised 10 children--eight boys and two girls!
- A skilled seamstress, Rose made all of her children's clothing by hand.
- Rose baked all the bread for her family. Her children never saw or tasted store-bought bread until they went to school; when they did, they unanimously preferred their mother's bread.
- Norman Rockwell noticed Rose at square dances and other activities in town. Rose accepted his invitation to pose for his paintings. As a result, she ended up in more than 20 of his paintings.
- Here's an interesting anecdote: Rose was asked by Rockwell to hold rosary beads while posing for the Freedom of Worship painting. When Rose told Rockwell that she was Episcopalian, he asked her, "Would you be a Catholic for today?" She good-naturedly agreed and earned $5 that day.
I have sold over ten thousand items online, mostly on eBay, over the last dozen or so years. While each sale has been a cause for celebration, I can count on one hand the transactions that are indelibly etched into my soul.
Truly, this is one of them.
It confirms for me on several levels why it is that I do what I do. Happily, every aspect of this transaction went smoothly. But even more importantly, I am blessed to have contributed in some small way to a loving son's commemoration of a simpler and happier time in American history, a beloved tribute to his dear mother, and the sweet nostalgia with which a great artist graced his hometown.