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The Religious Affiliation of Popular American Painter
Norman Rockwell


Norman Rockwell is regarded as one of the greatest and most popular artists in American history.

Norman Rockwell was born into a devout Episcopalian family, and he was active in the denomination throughout his childhood and teen years. After age 19, however, he rarely ever went to church services.

Even a cursory examination of Rockwell's popular body of paintings makes it abundantly clear that Rockwell's art was strongly pro-religion and strongly supportive of traditional religious values. But Rockwell himself appears to have been a non-churchgoer and a lapsed Episcopalian throughout his adult life.

Norman Rockwell: A Life, by Laura Claridge, Random House, New York (2001) features extensive details about Norman Rockwell's religious life, particularly his upbringing in the Episcopalian Church. See, in particular, pages 28-31, 70-72, 77-79, 83-84, 104-5, 122, 145, 367, 396, 399. The details below are drawn from this biography.

Norman Rockwell's parents were active Episcopalians. His mother was a particularly devout member of the denomination and of her local Episcopalian congregation. Rockwell's mother appears to have always been an important, stalwart member of whichever congregation she belonged to. In fact, there were times when young Norman and his brother felt that they were in competition with church for their mother's attention. This feeling appears to be one of a few reasons that Normon developed negative attitudes toward church.

Another source of negative feelings toward church stemmed from the fact that for a long time the family attended a church in the city that required crossing through a slum in order to go there from the Rockwell home. Norman had to pass by abusive drunks and other unsavory types in order to walk to church, and he associated religion with punishment.

On the other hand, Norman Rockwell's activities in the Episcopalian church were an immensely important part of his childhood. He was inolved in many youth groups and activies that centered on their congregation. Being in the church was also a source of many friends, fun times, and positive experiences.

Norman Rockwell was a choir boy at their family's church, and later, when his voice changed, he was the crucifier. This meant that every Sunday young Norman held aloft the cross as he led the procession down the church aisle.

At the age of 14, as Norman Rockwell was preparing to be confirmed, he spent considerable time with pastors of his church, some of whom - particularly the pastor at St. Thomas's Church - encouraged his artwork. At the request of pastors, young Norman also agreed to tutor other boys in art.

At the age of 19, Norman Rockwell's family moved to a different city. This was within a year of his confirmation, but Norman decided he had experienced enough organized religion for one lifetime, and he decided not to enroll in the local Episcopalian congregation where his mother and father both became members and began attending. Norman Rockwell was never again a regular churchgoer.

At the age of 21, Rockwell married Irene O'Connor. She was a Roman Catholic, and Rockwell agreed that they would raise their children in the Catholic Church. Some sources indicate their religious difference was a source of argument for the couple. However, Rockwell was no longer active in the Episcopalian Church, and Irene rarely ever attended Catholic services. Irene's family, however was more devout than her in their Catholicism, and Rockwell reported that people from her family and congregation tried many times to convert him to Catholicism. They were never successful in converting him. Rockwell apparently believed that the question of what faith they would raise their children was not a big concern, but that when and whether they would have children at all was a bigger source of disagreement. The couple never had children together, and they divorced in 1930 after 15 years of marriage.

Rockwell married schoolteacher Mary Barstow not long his divorce from Irene. The couple rarely ever went to church, although they did to go an Episcopalian church for the baptisms of their sons at three months of age. Norman Rockwell and Mary had their sons baptized at St. John's-Wilmot in New Rochelle.

In 1954 Norman Rockwell allowed his picture and text (ad copy) that was ostensibly written by him in an advertisement promoting church attendance. This ad was part of a non-profit group's major nationwide campaign to promote church attendance. The text in the ad, purportedly written by Rockwell but probably only approved by him, and written by somebody else, stated that Rockwell and his family attended church regularly, and not just on special occasions. This appears to have been a rare instance in which Rockwell exhibited blatant hypocrisy, but he apparently wanted to participate in the campaign because he supported the group's efforts to promote tolerance among all races, creeds, etc.

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Webpage created 3 December 2005. Last modified 4 December 2005.
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