Visiting Grandpa in the Gallery

By: Andrew McGivern, curator of exhibitions on January 13th, 2010

In Search of Norman Rockwell’s America continues to attract large crowds. On Saturday, January 2, more than 400 visitors enjoyed the exhibition during a five-hour period.

You never know who might visit the Museum.

One day last month I was told that a woman and her family were in the gallery talking about a relative who sat for Norman Rockwell.

Mary and Ed Peters and their three home-schooled children took time away from their dairy farm in Greenwood, Wisconsin, and drove 57 miles to the Woodson Art Museum to see pictures of their great-grandfather, James H. Martin. James posed for Norman Rockwell when the artist was painting his now-famous series known as the “Four Freedoms.”

James was living in Arlington, Vermont, when Norman Rockwell asked to photograph him and to use his image in a painting. Norman must have liked James’ features because he included James in each of his Four Freedom paintings. James is the only sitter to be included in all four.

Rockwell drew inspiration for his Four Freedoms series from a speech that President Franklin Roosevelt delivered to Congress in January 1941. Rockwell’s paintings were made to be reproduced in the Saturday Evening Post during four consecutive weeks in 1943. Later they were placed on tour by the magazine and the United States Department of Treasury to help raise money through the sale of war bonds.

In Freedom of Speech, James is in the lower right corner looking up at the man in the center of the painting who is about to speak. In Freedom of Worship, he is in the top left, and in Freedom of Want, he is peeking out of the picture in the lower right corner, demonstrating Rockwell’s humor.

Mary was eager to share the story of her grandfather and Rockwell, and also told me that her mother, Janet Martin, went to school with Norman’s children.

It was a pleasure to talk with Mary and her family. I enjoyed learning about her relatives who grew up in the same city as Rockwell and his family.

I guess you never know who you might bump into when strolling through the galleries, especially if you take time to hear their stories.

Share This!

Subscribe to our weekly blog. Please enter your email address.