There are few more satisfying sights on a city street than a well-stocked newsstand, hung with a hundred or more magazines and periodicals, each competing for the attention of the potential customer. The American magazine cover enjoyed a Golden Age during the period that opened with the high speed color press, and ended when subscription sales grew to paramount importance. Dozens of gifted artists-from J. C. Leyendecker to John Held-made their reputations in this field. None of them, however, achieved the immense and sustained popular success enjoyed by Norman Rockwell.
At the outset of his career, Rockwell was not the most likely candidate for long-term celebrity; he was just one of many skillful illustrators working within the conventions of the day. But there was something tenacious about his vision, and something uncanny about his access to the wellsprings of public taste. Although technically he was an academic painter, he had the eye of a photographer and, as he became a mature artist, he used this eye to give us a picture of America that was familiar-astonishingly so-and at the same time unique.
It seemed familiar because it was everyone's dream of America ; and it was unique because only Rockwell managed to bring it to life with such authority. This was, perhaps, an America that never existed, and never could, but it was an America that the public wanted to exist. And Rockwell put it together from elements that were there for everyone to see, so that he was able to give it the look of documentary reality. He held up a friendly mirror to the society he lived in, and Americans have looked into this glass and seen themselves as warm, decent, hard-working citizens of a country bountiful enough to accommodate their boundless optimism.
Rockwell helped preserve American myths, but, more than that, he recreated them and made them palatable for new generations. His function was to reassure people, to remind them of old values in times of rapid change.