Below is a final statement issued today by Norman Rockwell's son Thomas Rockwell and Rockwell's granddaughter Abigail Rockwell regarding the Deborah Solomon biography of their father and grandfather. I think it says everything that need be said about Deborah Solomon's dreadful biography American Mirror. Garrison Keillor's front page book review in the Sunday New York Times addresses some of the same libelous, absurd theories that this irresponsible biographer has manufactured in her fervidly imaginative brain. What amazes me is that so many otherwise worldly book reviewers seem to buy into Ms. Solomon's statements, confusing her wild speculations with facts. Naivete, nay, gullibility must now be a requirement for New York book reviewers. A recent review in the Oregon press wisely observed that the book is more a reflection on the mind of its author than that of its long dead subject. Here's the Rockwell family statement in response to Garrison Keillor's review.
"The Norman Rockwell Family Agency, in light of today's New York Times review of American Mirror the Life and Art of Norman Rockwell, is compelled to finally address the many analyses of Norman Rockwell.
The Norman Rockwell Family Agency is making this final statement:
"Many of the reviews of Deborah Solomon's American Mirror The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell have accepted her account of his life and work. Her account is essentially wrong. She has neglected or misused the sources which she cites. Her use of Norman Rockwell's autobiography, My Adventures as an Illustrator, is highly selective. As Professor Patrick Toner of Wake Forest University states in his online review on First Things.com, "Solomon has a pronounced tendency to either distort or simply ignore evidence to the contrary."
"Garrison Keillor states in today's review, "She does seem awfully eager to find homoeroticism - poor Rockwell cannot go on a fishing trip without his biographer finding sexual overtones. Keillor comments on Solomon's suggestion that the doll in "Girl at Mirror" could be masturbating, "Well, I suppose that Michelangelo's "David" could "almost" be masturbating".
"On page 94 of her book, Solomon describes how Rockwell would "hang about the schools at recess . . and stop little boys on the street . ." She then comments, "Today with our awareness of pederasty scandals (meaning pedophilia) this kind of behavior might seem problematic . ." She then omits a passage just below this in the Autobiography that fully explains what really happened - after Rockwell would convince a boy to pose, they would go to ask the mother's permission. On page 101 she comments on his relationship with his models: "The integrity of the boys was never in question. But his own character was not nearly so straightforward." Referring to Nabokov's novel, Lolita, Solomon writes, "In a way Rockwell was Humbert Humbert's discreet and careful twin brother, roused by the beauty of children but (thankfully) more repressed." Many of the reviewers have ignored the claim of pedophilia, perhaps because the suggestion of it blows the credibility of the book out of the water.
"She supports this unfounded claim with another phantom theory, that Rockwell was a closeted homosexual. To link pedophilia and homosexuality in this way is offensive and clearly homophobic. We have found at least 68 of these sexual references throughout the book. On page 168 she comments on his search for costumes for his models: ". . . he did enjoy acquiring clothing from men who caught his eye, as if it were possible to acquire the less tangible parts of them as well." Solomon now claims that sex is only a "tiny part" of her book. But sex is a major theme of the book and her phantom theories color and distort everything, including Rockwell's entire character and her interpretations of his art. There is no way to separate her sexual theories from the rest of the book. Her take on Freedom of Speech is that the man standing is "unattached and sexually available. Unbuttoned and unzipped." Solomon also omits from the Autobiography many accounts of Norman Rockwell's feelings and relationships with women.
"There are also many other factual errors and omissions -- we have found at least 96. Again, this is something that few reviewers seem to notice -- they simply do not know enough about Norman Rockwell's life, and are too dependent on Solomon's flawed account. She inadequately interviewed Rockwell's three sons and therefore her account of his life is often inaccurate. She gives an incomplete account of a significant difficulty with the Post when the art editor, Ken Stuart, painted out a horse from one of NR's covers without consulting him. Solomon omits Norman Rockwell's difficulties when his abilities were failing -- in one instance he painted portraits of the Ross Perot family and they were so badly done that Mr. Perot sent them back and NR returned his check.
"Most important of all, Solomon doesn't understand the man, who Norman Rockwell was as a person. She says "On most days he was lonesome and loveless." This is absurd. He did not mope, was not a chronic depressive, or a hypochondriac. He went through his trials and storms as we all do, but he was someone who ultimately affirmed life. People liked Rockwell and enjoyed being with him. He was interested in people and what they had to say. On a personal note, "I always had a wonderful relationship with my father, we were especially close when I helped him with his Autobiography."
"Solomon claims that her book is based on an examination of his art and that Norman Rockwell painted mostly men and boys. We counted all the Post covers from 1916 - 1951 and all the early covers for Life and Literary Digest. There are 172 covers with girls and women, and 141 covers with boys and men. Her theory is demonstrably wrong. Norman Rockwell also did 9 covers of Santa Claus. We're not sure in which category Solomon would place Santa.
"We are troubled and mystified that the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge has endorsed the book.
"This is our last word, we are no longer going to participate in the drama Solomon has created. This book says a lot more about Deborah Solomon than it does about Norman Rockwell."
Thomas Rockwell and Abigail Rockwell
For The Norman Rockwell Family Agency
Cynthia DeMonte, 917-273-1717