O n a warm July day in 1944 a train sta- tion in Chicago was the site of a great deal of commotion. Despite the evening rush, the managers of the Chicago and North Western Railroad Station had closed all doors except one set, so that thousands of commuters had to funnel into a single entry. As they passed through, the inconvenienced travelers may have noticed a newly constructed platform directly facing them. On this platform was a skinny fifty-year-old man and a photographer, and they were taking dozens of photos of the mad rush in front of them. The skinny man was none other than Norman Rockwell, the most famous American illustrator of the twen- tieth century. Rockwell had traveled from his Vermont home to Chicago that summer on a particular mis- sion: to create a Christmas cover painting for The Saturday Evening Post. Although Christ- mas was months away, magazine covers had to be conceived and developed well ahead of their appearance. Rockwell had already come up with a satisfactory idea for his annual holiday cover: a crowded railroad station in the middle of the United States, with people rushing to get home for Christmas. The idea was typical of his sensi- bility. Never would he have chosen a pointedly religious theme. Nor would he have depicted anything that could not be associated imme- diately with the average person’s feelings and associations about Christmas. There would be

no statement except that of the slightly annoyed, yet often relieved and excited feeling of fighting crowds to get home for the holidays. To capture every detail, Rockwell wanted to see for himself the real thing, or at least, given the calendar, get as good an idea as possible. The use of a camera was a fairly new innovation for him at that point. Up until the mid-1930s, he had sketched everything from life. But the camera did not really change Rockwell’s vision, for as an artist he had the meticulous, perceptive gaze of a camera. After rolls of film of the crowded train station in Chicago were shot, he headed back to Vermont, where he would then use parts of his photos to craft the impetus of hurling bodies: an elbow squeezing past the shoulder of a shorter person or arms laden with packages. He’d add the winter clothes over the summer-clad bodies and then slowly bring his image of the Christ- mas rush, born in July, to fruition. The sight of the well-known artist in action might have reassured many of Rockwell’s fans, who invariably knew him as a realist, albeit one with an eye for the lighter and friendlier side of life. Throughout his career, however, Rockwell never approached his work as a documentarist. His whimsical scenes of everyday American life did not come strictly from the streets, barber- shops, doctor’s offices, or Boy Scout outings we all know but developed rather as counterparts of those scenes constructed in his own mind. They may have been inspired by memories or

TRAIN STATION AT CHRISTMAS Oil on canvas, first printed on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post , December 23, 1944. Rockwell began planning his seasonal covers months in advance, working on Christmas scenes like this one in the heat of summer.


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