During yesterday's tour of the Norman Rockwell Museum, 12 students from Sullivan Elementary School in North Adams were praised by the museum's director and CEO, Laurie Norton Moffatt, who thanked the children for their "incredibly special" effort to make Rockwell the official state artist.
As part of a Massachusetts history project last year, the students examined the state's symbols, and some of them wondered if they could add another symbol to the list, said Anna Saldo-Burke, their teacher.
"They asked, 'Wouldn't it be nice if we had a symbol of our own?' " Saldo-Burke said.
After some brainstorming sessions, the students settled on Rockwell, who lived and worked in Stockbridge from the early 1950s until his death in 1978, at the age of 84.
In early 2007, the students wrote a letter to state Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, asking the legislator to sponsor a bill, and he accepted. State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing also joined Bosley as a co-sponsor.
"This wasn't a hard (decision)," Bosley told the youngsters as they sat in the gallery. "Who else would be (official state artist)? Rockwell painted scenes of America we can all relate to. I'm so proud of you for bringing it forward."
Bosley also told them he was inspired by the children's decision to advocate for something they believed in.
"You proved that if you get involved, you can make a difference," he said.
Rockwell became the state's official artist in February.
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, a member of the Committee of Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, also helped pass the bill into law. He shared a story with the students about his personal connection to the iconic artist: In 1969, at the age of 9, Pignatelli posed for a Rockwell portrait.
In the museum's archive room, Pignatelli showed the students a painting of a little boy dressed in a space suit, reclining upside down in a chair, and gazing at a television broadcast of a rocket launch. He also showed them a photo of Rockwell telling the young Pignatelli how to properly hold his head and shoulders in the difficult pose.
The painting, which appeared in a 1970 edition of Childcraft Encyclopedia, earned Pignatelli $40 for his modeling services. Rockwell paid him by check.
"The money is long gone, but I wish I still had the canceled check with his signature on it," Pignatelli said.
He also showed the children the little space suit he wore in the portrait.
One of the Sullivan Elementary students who worked on the project said she was "amazed" by Rockwell's work.
"I can't believe anyone can paint that well," said Mayan Zungy, 9.
She also said she could relate to Rockwell's work, and said his "Four Freedoms" series, along with his portrait of a family serving Thanksgiving dinner, were her favorites.
The latter painting "reminds me of home," Zungy added.
Mass. state symbols
Folk song: 'Massachusetts,' by Arlo Guthrie
Artist: Norman Rockwell (pictured)
Beverage: Cranberry juice
Muffin: Corn muffin
Dessert: Boston cream pie
Cookie: Chocolate chip cookie, invented in 1930 at the Toll House restaurant in Whitman