Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo "The Craftsman" by Norman Rockwell was commissioned by Rock of Ages.
BARRE — Two original Norman Rockwells, which were commissioned by Rock of Ages nearly 50 years ago, will go on display in just a few weeks.
“The Craftsman” and “Kneeling Girl” will be on display Saturday, Dec. 1, at the company’s visitors’ center in Graniteville from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The visitors’ center is located at 558 Graniteville Road.
The two oil paint illustrations were commissioned by the company for its national advertising campaigns in the 1950s and 1960s. “Kneeling Girl” depicts a young school girl sitting at the gravestone of someone named Newton. The illustration appeared in several national magazines, and generated a significant number of granite memorial sales at the company’s retail stores. In 1962, Rockwell, who lived in Vermont for eight years starting in 1939, was commissioned again to do a second work depicting a man etching a gravestone in the company’s manufacturing building in Barre. George Seivwright of Montpelier, a senior director for the company and a longtime stone carver, was asked to pose for Rockwell. The image has the older man working in the solitude of the granite works, including a angel that appears to be looking down upon him. As a nod to his own mortality, Rockwell added a name to a gravestone in the background, “Norwell,” which is how the work is known at Rock of Ages and among art collectors and critics. This second image also generated significant sales from its appearance in prominent magazines, including TV Guide and Ladies Home Journal.
The paintings became the center of intrigue in the early 1980s when the company was sold. The Rockwells were thought to be part of the $20 million price tag, however, the selling company, Nortek Inc. of Cranston, R.I., crated up the paintings and had them shipped from Barre to their headquarters in Rhode Island. Kurt Swenson, who was the buyer for Rock of Ages in 1984, fought for more than a year to get the paintings returned to the Granite City, insisting they were part of Barre’s and the granite industry’s heritage and rich history.
The dispute made headlines across the globe, and put the Rockwells front and center before the art and business worlds.
Once returned to Barre, the paintings have been safely on display, behind closed doors, inside the company’s headquarters, across the parking lot from the visitors center.
Rockwell, whose most famous works were “The Four Freedoms” and his illustrations for magazine covers for Look, Boys Life and the Saturday Evening Post, did mostly commissioned works. In all he did more than 4,000 illustrations, spanning decades. He died in 1978. Rockwell spent most of his working life in Stockbridge, Mass. At the time of his popularity, his contribution to the art world was looked down upon by critics and scholars. Today, however, Rockwells are considered prized works of American art, and in some case, fetch millions of dollars at auction.
The value of “The Craftsman” and “Kneeling Girl” are not public, however, in 1984 they were estimated to be worth $20,000 each.
In recent months, as Barre’s apparent renaissance has started taking shape, city officials are counting the Rockwells among Barre’s most prestigious “assets,” and have been working with Rock of Ages officials to get the two rare Rockwells on display in a high-traffic area of the city, such as the Vermont History Center. Talks are in the works to move the paintings to a location downtown, but for now Rock of Ages officials say the public can come view the notable paintings on Dec. 1.
“We want people to know about these paintings, which are a significant part of the artistic heritage of Barre,” said Todd Paton, director of visitor services at the Rock of Ages Visitors Center.
The open house that Saturday will be free.
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