Example of early Norman Rockwell illustration found in SUNY Potsdam archives
Sunday, February 19, 2012 - 7:47 am

POTSDAM -- A 93-year-old alumni magazine cover with original art by famed American illustrator Norman Rockwell was recently discovered by the SUNY Potsdam archivist.

The July 1919 cover of “The Normal Magazine” marked the 50th anniversary of Potsdam Normal School.

Rockwell’s drawing of a young woman clutching a diploma might have been inspired by his first wife, Irene O’Connor, a Norwood High School graduate who went on to attend and earn her degree from Potsdam Normal School in 1911.

Rockwell and O’Connor were married in 1916. The couple’s wedding announcement ran in the Potsdam Courier-Freeman on July 5, 1916.

College Archivist Matt Francis said it was lucky to find a copy of the magazine that still had the cover, since “most of the covers were lost during the binding process.

“While there are several mark-ups on the cover, luckily none of them overlap the image.”

The location of Rockwell’s original drawing for the print is unknown at this time.

At the time this illustration was made, Rockwell was 25 years old and had begun his long association as an illustrator with the Saturday Evening Post.

“Mrs. Rockwell is very well known in Potsdam where she has been a resident for several years,” the wedding announcement read “She is a graduate of the Potsdam Normal [School] and has recently been teaching in New Rochelle. Mr. Rockwell is well known as an artist and is now occupying the Frederick Remington studio in New Rochelle. His work on the Saturday Evening Post, St. Nicholas, the Harper, Century and other well known publications has already given him an enviable reputation as an artist and illustrator.”

The couple spent summers in nearby Louisville, and three years later, Rockwell submitted the illustration for the cover of the alumni magazine for his wife’s alma mater.

The July 1919 edition of the Normal Magazine had this to say about its cover art: “We want to express our gratitude to our adopted Mr. Rockwell for his cover design representing the sweet girl graduate of 50 years ago. It was his gift to our semi-centennial and surely one of no mean proportions.”

The woman in the Normal Magazine illustration bears a striking resemblance to the woman in Rockwell’s famous “Mother Tucking Children in Bed,” which was published as the cover for the Literary Digest in 1921. Rockwell used his wife as the model for that work. The couple were divorced in 1930.

O’Connor can be seen in her photo as a member of the graduating Class of 1911 in the Potsdam Normal “annual,” one of the first college yearbooks. The entire run of Potsdam Pioneer yearbooks can be found online, through the North Country Digital History website, which is an initiative of the Northern New York Library Network. To see those yearbooks, visit history.nnyln.org/nc-sunypotsdam.php.

“As SUNY Potsdam approaches its bicentennial, this exciting find from years past -- marking an older milestone -- is a touching tribute to the long legacy of the College’s impact on the region and beyond,” Director of Alumni Relations Mona Ouimet Vroman said. “We were very pleasantly surprised to ‘re’-discover our role in Norman Rockwell’s connection to North Country history.”

Founded in 1816 as St. Lawrence Academy, the institution known today as SUNY Potsdam was designated part of the New York State Normal School system of teacher training in 1867. In 1869, Potsdam Normal School opened its doors in a new building. In 1942, the institution became known as the State Teachers College at Potsdam, and underwent a few more name changes as it grew along with the rest of the SUNY system.

For more information about the College Archives and Special Collections, visit potsdam.libguides.com/archives.

To find out more about SUNY Potsdam history, visit www.potsdam.edu/about/history.cfm.