The Artwork of Norman Rockwell Preserved on a Pair of Suspenders

By Daniel Grant, | The Christian Science Monitor, May 12, 1994 | Go to article overview

The Artwork of Norman Rockwell Preserved on a Pair of Suspenders


Daniel Grant,, The Christian Science Monitor


WHEN some famous artists die, they live on in art history books, their artwork preserved in museums and notable collections.

But the artwork of certain artists such as Norman Rockwell has become an even larger commercial industry after their passing. Rockwell's drawings, oil sketches, watercolors, and oil paintings attract collectors willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on major works. But his images, in whole or in part, are also available on a myriad of souvenir-priced items for which enthusiasts spend tens of millions of dollars annually. This merchandise - 1,200 items are available at the Norman Rockwell Museum gift shop in his hometown of Stockbridge, Mass. - includes note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and trouser suspenders.

Many dealers of illustration art are critical of the amount of low-priced merchandise - which is sometimes poor quality - that the Rockwell family and its copyright holders have allowed.

"Rockwell was, and still is, exploited in shameless ways," says Walt Reed, owner of Illustration House, an art gallery in New York. "You see all these souvenir items that denigrate the artist, to my way of thinking."

Art collectors have not been dissuaded from paying top dollar for original Rockwells, however. "The people who buy the original aren't affected by what they see in the department stores," says New York art dealer Judy Goffman.

The Rockwell family was left with relatively few originals, and because there are not enough to sell, the family's main means of generating income is through licensing. Mass-produced artwork

Honore Daumier and Francisco Goya also were well-regarded painters who achieved even greater renown through their mass-produced caricatures in print media. Mary Anne Robertson's (Grandma Moses) original paintings are hung in major museums and private collections; her images are also found on posters and ceramic plates. Like the Rockwell licensing company, Grandma Moses Properties Company, created in the 1940s, handles the licensing of her images.

Yet, there is less Grandma Moses merchandise than Rockwell merchandise on the market. This is partly a reflection of demand and partly a matter of planning, says Jane Kallir of Galerie St. Etienne in New York. Ms. Kallir works as a dealer for Moses.

"Toward the end of her life and after her death, Grandma Moses's celebrity status waned, and her status as a fine artist increased," Ms. Kallir said. "In this context, we didn't want the artist to seem totally exploited commercially {so} . …

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