NORMAN ROCKWELL AMERICANA | THE TATTOOOIST, CIRCA 1944

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The Tattooist, ca, 1944 — Norman Rockwell.

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Simply no one captures the idealism and essence of vintage Americana like Norman Rockwell.  You can generously apply all the cliche descriptors enthusiastically, and without remorse — EPIC, ICONIC, etc. — because never have they been more appropriate.  1942′s “The Tattooist” above has long been one of my favorite Rockwell works– so I thought I’d share some of the history behind it, via the Tattoo Archive

Norman Rockwell worked from various staged photographs while painting The Tattooist, which was used as The Saturday Evening Post cover on the March 4, 1944 issue.  In Fact, Rockwell used photographs as an aid in doing most of his paintings.  Rockwell had many willing participants in his town of Arlington, Vermont.  For the actual tattooist, he used one of his fellow illustrators from the Saturday Evening Post, and a neighbor, Clarence Decker, as the sailor.  This was Schaeffer’s only appearance as a central figure in a Rockwell illustration.  Decker was ‘Master of the Grange’ in Arlington, and shows up in quite a few other Rockwell illustrations.  For The Tattooist, Rockwell borrowed a tattoo machine from the Bowery tattooist Al Neville.  Rockwell obviously consulted with Al Neville, along with former sailors to insure the accuracy in his painting The Tattooist.

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Staged photo of Clarence Decker (left) used by Norman Rockwell for 1944′s The Tattooist. Via

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The Tattoo Archive received an email from Ross Mosher, who is the great, great nephew of Clarence Decker, the sailor model for The Tattooist, which read–

“Clarence didn’t have a single tattoo in real life.  Also the last name on his arm is Betty– that’s because my great, great aunt Belle told Norman that if he put her name in the painting, she wouldn’t speak to him ever again.  So Norman crossed the L’s and added a Y.”

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In “Triple Self-Portrait” (1959) Rockwell reveals himself to be clear-eyed about his illusions. “In some ways it’s his most mature painting,” says Rockwell’s son Peter. Via

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Circa 1945: Portrait of American artist Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) sketching with a pencil while sitting at a drafting table. He holds a pipe with his free hand. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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Related TSY Posts:

THE FOREFATHERS OF TATTOOING | “CAP” COLEMAN & PAUL ROGERS

THE LEGEND OF SAILOR JERRY | TATTOO MASTER NORMAN COLLINS

BTC BRISTOL TATTOO CLUB | THE SKUSE FAMILY — GENERATIONS OF KILLER INK

ROGUES, SAILORS & ANCIENT MARINERS | HISTORY OF NAUTICAL TATTOOS

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7 thoughts on “NORMAN ROCKWELL AMERICANA | THE TATTOOOIST, CIRCA 1944

  1. Didn’t mention my favourite part of this one… the root of “a list as long as your arm…”. Could be wrong but i believe that comes from the tradition as above of crossing out tattoed names and replacing w/ current flame’s… thus a genuine rogue had a list of names “as long as his arm” (something like that…). great stuff.

  2. Read that same Vanity Fair article. Never knew that he had such a turmoiled personal life. I knew that his paintings projected an idealized world, but I didn’t know it was so different in some aspects from his own life. It’s a great read if you manage to get past the Penelope Cruz article.

  3. Norman Rockwell is the quintessential American artist. Modern idiots may consider his work kitchy or camp, but they miss the essence of Americana in his art when they do.

    And his technique! Other than Frank Gaylord, the sculptor who did the statues at the Korean War Memorial in DC, I don’t think there’s a modern artist who comes close to Rockwell’s exquisite photorealistic ability, which requires much more talent and effort to acquire and maintain than any kind of abstract “art.”

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