One of my favorite illustrators is Norman Rockwell. While some have criticized his work as stereotypical or overly sentimental, I think Rockwell, who by most accounts considered himself more a commercial illustrator, earned his popularity.
“I paint life as I would like it to be," Rockwell once said. Nostalgia aside, Rockwell is well remembered for his “Four Freedoms” series, which was inspired by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s speech to Congress in January of 1941, an excerpt of which follows:
For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:
Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
Jobs for those who can work.
Security for those who need it.
The ending of special privilege for the few.
The preservation of civil liberties for all.
The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.
These are the simple, basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.
And the part of the speech credited with inspiring the “Four Freedoms” series:
In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called "new order" of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.
Rockwell’s four paintings appeared on the covers of the Saturday Evening Post during four weeks from February 20 to March 6, 1943, and later were taken on a traveling tour of the country. They are credited with raising nearly $132 million for war-bonds.
And today, these images are just as powerful in my mind. The American Dream, which unfortunately some Americans can no longer invision, was reflected throughout his work. Most of our fellow countrymen and women will celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday. Whether we are rich or poor, most of us can find something to give thanks for. We can wrap ourselves in the arms of Rockwell’s warm family and still hope.
Photo from the National Archives and Records Administration