Rockwell donor wanted to see work back in public view

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Related | Norman Rockwell Museum given gift of puppy love

STOCKBRIDGE >> For Bill Millis, an avid collector of Norman Rockwell's work for the past 40 years, the decision to donate "Boy and Girl Gazing at Moon (Puppy Love)" to the Stockbridge museum was a natural outgrowth of his admiration for the artist.

"It's a very special place," Millis said during a phone interview from his home in High Point, N.C. He's a philanthropist and real estate developer whose family fortune came from the hosiery industry.

He cited a visit to the Bernard Danenberg art gallery in Manhattan in 1975. "When I saw 'Puppy Love,' I said, 'Oh my gosh!' " he recalled. "I had always loved Rockwell's work from my teen years onward."

Millis struck up a correspondence with the artist: "I was pleasantly surprised when he wrote back" — and he still has a half dozen letters. Rockwell signed Millis's subsequent acquisition of "Looking Out to Sea," inscribing it "to my good friend, Bill Millis."

"Little did I know how popular he was," Millis said. As the value of the artist's work skyrocketed in recent years, he had considered selling "Puppy Love" so he could use the proceeds to build churches for the International Cooperating Ministries, a group to which he belongs.

But at the end of the day, I decided to donate it so my children and grandchildren could continue to see it," he said.

Summing up his connection to Rockwell, Millis declared: "He represented what America was and what it should be, values that I think we've lost. He depicted the country the way I like to think of it."

Millis also recalled how Rockwell replied to the letter reporting his purchase of "Puppy Love."

"He wrote back saying, 'I'm glad Puppy Love finally has a happy home.' Now it will be at home at the museum, where hopefully thousands of people can also view it."


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