Rockwell's granddaughter says new biography is full of false claims

Norman Rockwell's relatives say a new biography of the famous artist twists facts and omits information in an effort to portray him as a repressed homosexual or even a pedophile.

I previously reviewed Deborah Solomon's "American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell" here, as published in the July 18 Tidings: Rockwell's granddaughter, jazz singer and songwriter Abigail Rockwell, contacted me and agreed to an interview about her grandfather, who passed away in 1978.

She said she wouldn't care if her grandfather had been homosexual, but he simply wasn't. Abigail Rockwell said she is offended that Solomon appears to pathologize homosexuality by linking it to pedophilia.

Q: How well did you know your grandfather?

A: The family would spend every Thanksgiving and Christmas with Pop. The grandchildren had full run of the house and we would hide in the closets among all the musty coats, stage plays in the main hall for the adults, explore the attic, etc.

The adults would have their cocktails in the library. And there would be Pop — in his comfortable red chair by the fireplace, the wonderful aroma of his pipe filling the air, a bourbon sour in his hand, the Christmas tree twinkling in the living room.

Pop's house, especially around the holidays, was its own universe and a place where I felt totally safe and taken care of. The last few years of his life he had dementia, so that did affect his final years. Before the dementia set in, I remember him as a surprisingly worldly, quietly confident man with a calm self-possession.

Everybody in Stockbridge, Mass., liked and respected him.

Children can be very perceptive and my sense of Pop was that he was a kind man and he loved having family around him.

He would shuffle to breakfast in a good mood, have his two soft-boiled eggs and make his way out to his studio early. I loved to sit on the sofa in his studio and watch him paint, smelling that pungent turpentine smell, looking at all the art books and objects from around the world that he filled the studio with — it was a magical place to me. To this day, when I smell pipe smoke it always has a euphoric effect on me — and I remember those holidays wistfully.

Q. In your view, what are the most egregious examples of mischaracterization in the book?

A: Ultimately, the issue is not homosexuality, or even pedophilia. It's about the falsification of sources and the many other major errors. It's about the credibility of the author. It's about the truth.

Solomon didn't present a truthful characterization of my grandfather or his work. My father and I have compiled a list of at least 270 errors and omissions.

One of the most egregious falsifications is Solomon's account of my grandfather's journal of a fishing/hunting trip that he took with his studio assistant, Fred Hildebrandt, and two guides in 1934. None of it is "suggestive material" as Solomon insists.

She quotes the journal that one night "Fred and I get into one very narrow bed," but fails to mention that there were 11 people in total staying overnight in the cabin — five children (three of them sick and coughing badly) and six adults. That's why they all had to share beds that night. That was the only night Pop and Fred shared a bed.

Many of her falsifications in her book are so muddled and confused. Solomon twists herself into a pretzel trying to create evidence throughout. It took time to untangle her elaborate fictions.

Q: What would you like readers to know about your grandfather that wasn't conveyed in the book?

A: Solomon leaves out whole aspects of my grandfather's character — in particular, his wonderful, warm sense of humor, laughing at human foibles.He also could be quite naughty and saucy with his humor — joyously reciting jokes and limericks before dinner to start things off. He was remarkably observant — not just visually, but he was a great, compassionate observer of human behavior. He was equally observant of his own behavior and freely admitted his own flaws, owned up to how he felt about things, etc.


Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or Follow her at