Saying Grace 1951
Norman Rockwell (1894-1978)
Many of Rockwell's Post covers originated from his own imagination or from scenes he had witnessed and remembered; Saying Grace is one exception. In the fall of 1951, Rockwell received a letter from a woman in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, describing a scene she had witnessed in the Automat in Philadelphia. Seated at a table, she had observed a plain young woman, "evidently Polish," she said, with a little boy of about five. They walked by her with food-laden trays, laughing and happy to be in the restaurant. They took off their coats, hung them up and returned to their table at which two men were already seated, "shoving in their lunch." The young woman and boy folded their hands, bowed their heads and, for two minutes, said Grace. From this description, Rockwell constructed his painting. He had a photographer take photos from inside an Automat in New York City and another photographer take photos of a street scene in Albany. He worked with these two locations as his background but in the end decided on a view of industrial buildings in Rensselaer, across the river from Albany. The earlier versions of the view through the window were very busy with storefronts, cars, buses and people. We can assume he found this to be too distracting from the quiet scene he was creating inside the restaurant. The natural gray tones of the buildings shrouded in smoke allows them to blend away in the background. Hearing the facts of the actual incident and then seeing how Rockwell developed it is an interesting exercise. The choices he makes of changing the age of the woman, assigning the blue-collar character to the two men and removing the scene from its city setting, to mention a few, are interesting to consider. One night at illustrator Jack Atherton's house, Rockwell spoke of how discouraged he was with this piece. "I've been working on this painting all week and it's going nowhere. Today I got so mad at it that I threw it out of the studio, right into the snow. I think maybe the idea stinks." He then described Saying Grace to fellow artist George Hughes, who replied that Rockwell was right, "the idea stinks." Hughes believed that because Rockwell never took anyone's advice, his reaction to the concept was what motivated Rockwell to retrieve the painting from the snow the next day and continue it to completion. "Norman always ended up doing what he wanted to do anyway, no matter how much advice he asked. That's why he was so good."
Oil on canvas
Painting for The Saturday Evening Post cover, November 24, 1951
Stuart Family Collection