Celebrating American Artist Norman Rockwell's 116th Birthday...February 3, 1894


By Alexander Haimann, Collections Specialist

Norman Rockwell souvenir sheet with four 50-cent stamps
© United States Postal Service. All rights reserved.

Today, February 3, 2010 marks Norman Rockwell's 116th birthday. Rockwell, the well-known illustrator of Saturday Evening Post covers beginning in 1916 at the age of twenty-two, serves as a prime example of an artist who used his art to honor ‘main street’ America. Rockwell's artistic talents were apparent at a very young age as he attended art classes in New York City, then the National Academy of Design, and finally the Art Students League.

Richard Sheaff, an art director at the Postal Service in 1993, wrote an inscription that appeared on the Norman Rockwell postage stamp souvenir sheet when the design and text was first released to the press in December of 1993. Sheaff wrote, “For half a century, artist Normal Rockwell captured the essence of the American pageant in his paintings of common folk in everyday scenes…” His statement accurately describes Rockwell’s art displaying the emotion and character of Americans from soldiers to astronauts. Stamp designers selected this art to celebrate not only Rockwell himself, but also the people of America.

Rockwell's Four Freedoms

freedom from want, and the freedom from fear stamps
© United States Postal Service. All rights reserved.

In his 1941 State of the Union address President Roosevelt outlined what he considered four freedoms that distinguish Americans: the freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and the freedom from fear. Rockwell, determined to help his country, decided to depict these ideas in his art. In his autobiography, the artist stated, “I’ll illustrate the four freedoms using my Vermont neighbors as models. I’ll express the ideas in simple, everyday scenes.”

Richard Sheaff designed the 1994 Rockwell stamp issue and the accompanying four-stamp souvenir sheet which features Rockwell’s Four Freedoms paintings. These four pieces are considered to be some of Rockwell's best work, and they are popular worldwide. Their popularity made them ideal subjects for stamps honoring the artist. To make the souvenir sheet, Sheaff had to crop some of the paintings to fit them into the stamp.

freedom of speech and freedom of worship stamps
© United States Postal Service. All rights reserved.

The “Freedom from Fear” painting lost its bottom section depicting the bedroom floor. The left side of the “Freedom of Speech” painting showing other faces in the audience was removed. Additionally, small sections at the top of the “Freedom of Speech” painting and the “Freedom of Worship” painting were cropped for use on the stamps. The designer also moved Rockwell’s signature around in the four works, assuring that it would be clearly visible. He wanted the artist to receive his deserved commemoration.

Discover other American Artists and Art on postage stamps »

Alex Haimann

About the Author
Alexander T. Haimann, Collections Specialist & Web Projects Developer at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, collects and writes primarily about the stamps and postal history of the U.S. during the first one hundred years of stamp production (1847-1947). Additionally, he develops internet based education projects and exhibits for the National Postal Museum. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Stamp Dealers Association, the Chair of the American Philatelic Society’s Young Philatelic Leaders Fellowship and the publicist for the United State Philatelic Classics Society. His national and international society memberships include the American Philatelic Society, United States Stamp Society, Collectors Club of New York and the Royal Philatelic Society London.