Rockwell drawn to athletic subjects

Sunday July 8, 2012

STOCKBRIDGE -- Norman Rockwell wasn’t much of an athlete, but he sure liked to paint them.

Some of Rockwell’s earliest commissioned works for magazines were of youngsters either fishing or trying to play baseball, basketball or football. His later works for The Saturday Evening Post featured big-league baseball players, boxing champions, and football stars, along with youngsters at play.

On Saturday, the Norman Rockwell Museum honored its namesake’s passion for athletic endeavors with an annual exhibition titled "Sports!".

The event, now in its sixth year, also included a fly fishing exhibition, and talks from representatives of the baseball, basketball, field hockey, volleyball and Ladies Professional Golf Association Halls of Fame, along with the United States Golf Association Museum. The LPGA was represented by local professional Kay McMahon, who was inducted into the LPGA Teaching and Club Profesionals Hall of Fame in 2010.

"it gives visitors an opportunity to see Rockwell in a different light," said Thomas Daly, the museum’s curator of education. "Not everybody put the arts and sports together. This gives us an opportunity to do that."

The Museum’s collection includes 29 of Rockwell’s athletic-related drawings that date back as far as 1913. It also includes several props that Rockwell collected to use in his work, including a ball and gloves that were featured in a 1975 painting titled, "Two Boys Playing Baseball", and the bicycle that he rode until he was in his late 70s.

Rockwell was an avid tennis player -- he had a court built at his home in Vermont -- and also took up badminton and golf. But he was more skilled at moving a paint brush across a canvas than hitting a baseball.

"Norman Rockwell was hoping as a young person that if he stayed interested in baseball that the other kids in his neighborhood would include him," Daly said. "He realized very shortly after that that because he wasn’t very athletic that the way he could be included by the other kids was to draw pictures of them while they played baseball.

"He said in his autobiography that the kids wouldn’t let him play unless he was drawing their pictures," he said.

Debbie Prezzano of Long Island, N.Y., who is vacationing with her family in Otis, knew that Rockwell had painted athletes, but didn’t know the extent of his work until attending Saturday’s event.

"It just increases your appreciation for who he is," Prezzano said.

Another fan was local high school basketball coaching legend Paul Procopio, who has been painting basketballs to honor milestone accomplishments by his former players and friends in the coaching community for several years. He’s currently working on a national championship basketball for Kentucky coach John Cailparii, and brought several examples of his work to Saturday’s event.

"I started painting when I was eight," Procopio said. "Tom and I have become close friends and I try and help him out every year."

Another popular item was a pair of Shaquille O’Neal’s size 23 sneakers from when he played for the Miami Heat that were brought to the museum by Basketball Hall of Fame representative Jason Fiddler. Several youngsters posed for pictures with the sneakers, which looked like miniature black and red aircraft carriers.

"I think they are our number one artifact," Fiddler said, referring to the huge shoes. "They’re so big that people think they’re fake."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
(413) 496-6224
On Twitter: @tonydobrow


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