Hold Out! – a Norman Rockwell’s illustration

In this small oil painting, the famous American illustrator Norman Rockwell (1894 – 1978) depicts the great depression of 1929. A man with a pretentious appearance and the dropped air holds two plaster busts. The man is working as a delivery man and his clothing is comprised of ordinary non-coordinated slacks, jacket, and vest over a blue working man’s shirt. Even though he does not wear a regulation uniform, he does sport an official looking peaked cap on his head. This is a military or service profession cap typically worn by those who wear a uniform. It is constructed with a crown, band, and a peak (also known as a visor).  The shine on the front portion of the band and visor indicates that it is made of patent leather making it more durable in inclement weather. Over the lacings of his shoes, the deliveryman wears cloth spats.

Before they became the height of fashion in the early decades of the 20th century, spats were designed to protect shoes and ankles from mud and water while walking. The deliveryman’s shoes reveal considerable wear, indicating that his spats are incapable of keeping his feet from getting wet.

On the preparatory study for this cover illustration, Rockwell was certainly inspired by the image of the figurists who he will have seen as a child walking through the streets of a big city intent to earn a few dollars. The figurist or figurinaio has been a poor but widespread craft job for over three centuries, in America and in Europe. Young boys and children with small plaster statuettes, and busts in a bamboo casket made the door to door selling for a few bucks. This image was the symbol of indigence and poverty. and was exactly an Image like this to inspired Rockwell on representing the big economic difficulty that afflicted many families during the years  of the great depression between 1920 and 1932.

The figurinaio represented the dark side of artistic craftsmanship. Their origin belongs to the geographical area of Lucchesia in Tuscany, Italy. Here the crafts belonging to the plaster works were very common. This is the same area from which came many skilled mold makers who reach a very big fortune in Italy and around the world producing high quality plaster casts for museums, university, art academies, cast collections and art collectors. But, as we know, every market has to be covered and the figurists sell small and very cheap plasters as street vendors just to keep the survival of their poor family.

Rockwell was a great observer, his illustrations, in a really refined way, represent America in those years. Every detail in his paintings, every expression of a face or gesture, brings back to a real daylife scene where is depicted exactly the American culture, for better or for worse.

The delivery of two plaster busts of Hermes and Venus not only represents a makeshift job for the poor man, but remarks the condition of servitude and submission to the more fortunate bourgeois families who are intent to tacking care for the interiors of their luxury homes during the years of depression.

Rockwell can also show what you do not see. Two faces of the same medal, a divided society as always has happened and always will happen.