Norman Rockwell Treasure Comes Home

Click here to view a slideshow of The Lineman.

STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. - The image of a telephone lineman -- strong, focused and dedicated to his craft -- has long been a symbol for communications workers and every person who works with his or her hands.  Such a lineman was immortalized in a painting by Norman Rockwell in 1948.

That painting, called "The Lineman," was donated Wednesday (March 12) by Verizon to the Norman Rockwell Museum here.

The oil-on-canvas painting -- 57 inches by 42 and one-eighth inches and recently appraised at more than $2 million, according to Verizon officials -- was officially presented to Museum Director and Chief Executive Officer Laurie Norton Moffatt by Donna Cupelo, Verizon region president of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

"This is a sentimental but proud day for us," Cupelo said at the donation ceremony at the museum. "We in the Verizon family loved this painting and enjoyed it for many, many years; it perfectly symbolizes our heritage and our commitment to our customers.  At the same time, we recognize that its rightful place is with the museum so that it can be enjoyed by everyone."

Said Moffatt, "Thanks to Verizon's generosity, the public will be able to enjoy this magnificent painting forever. 'The Lineman' joins Norman Rockwell Museum's distinguished collection of Rockwell's work that tells the story of America.  The acquisition of this iconic painting deeply enriches the museum's collection of American illustration art, comprising the world's largest collection of Norman Rockwell art.  We are honored to be the guardian of this American treasure, and to carry forward the colorful story of its creation."

Rockwell created "The Lineman" for an advertisement for New England Telephone, a predecessor company of Verizon.  The painting had been on loan to the museum since 2006 from the Verizon collection of art work.    

History in the Making

When Rockwell accepted the commission to illustrate a lineman, he imagined the type of man he wanted to pose for his picture.  In the fall of 1947, Rockwell drove around the countryside near his Arlington, Vt., home and through western Massachusetts, looking for telephone linemen at work and searching for a lineman with the build and face that Rockwell had envisioned.  His search ended when he spotted New England Telephone employee and Lenox, Mass., resident John Toolan digging and setting telephone poles with a crew in Cheshire, Mass., near the Vermont border.

Later the same day, Toolan went to Rockwell's studio in Vermont (Rockwell later moved to Stockbridge), where Rockwell had him pose outdoors on a pole fitted with cables and anchored to nearby trees.  Toolan then lashed cables for several hours while photographs were taken.  The photos were sent to New England Telephone, where engineers checked them for technical accuracy. 

Four months later, Rockwell sent his preliminary drawing and color study to the company for approval.  Eleven changes were required, most of them technical, before Rockwell could proceed with this final oil painting.

Copies of the painting appeared nationally as an ad in Life magazine.  Its appearance generated thousands of reprint requests from the public and telephone company employees. More than 100,000 poster-sized color prints were sent throughout the country.

Quoted in a 1980 article in a New England Telephone employee magazine, Toolan, now deceased, said: "I remember when the ad first appeared in the magazine...boy did I get kidded a lot by my friends and co-workers.  They said they'd never known such a famous person before and thought I was quite a celebrity.  Best of all, though, they thought I was still a regular guy, too."

Although the illustration was created for an advertisement, its effect was meant to be inspirational rather than commercial.  In the original letter to Rockwell from the ad agency handling the account, it was suggested that he portray the lineman in the act of restoring service after a catastrophic event, such as a hurricane. "The work of the linemen for the telephone company," said the letter, "is filled with opportunities for personal sacrifices and acts which stem only from devotion to national welfare, so that it seems a fitting work to honor by such a painting."

This almost life-size painting commands viewers' attention both through its size and by its straightforward message about the importance and dignity of manual work in the performance of essential service.  The painting joins a collection of Rockwell artwork at the Norman Rockwell Museum, consisting of similar works in which the artist devoted his entire canvas to a single compelling figure, such as Tyrone Power in a movie poster for "The Razor's Edge" and Charles Dickens' coachman for a 1939 Saturday Evening Post cover.  

About Norman Rockwell Museum
Set on a picturesque 36-acre estate in Stockbridge, Mass., Norman Rockwell Museum is the leading international center for research and scholarship on Norman Rockwell. In addition to holding the world's largest collection of Rockwell's art and archives, Rockwell's Stockbridge studio is located on the property and is open to the public from May through October.  Norman Rockwell Museum is dedicated to art appreciation and education that illuminates Norman Rockwell's unique contributions to art, society, and popular culture. The Museum organizes groundbreaking special exhibitions that advance new scholarship in the field of illustration and presents an array of public and educational programs. The Museum's research and academic program includes conferences and symposia. In addition to its permanent collection of Rockwell's art, previous exhibitions have presented the work of Frederic Remington, Charles Schulz, Winslow Homer, Howard Pyle, J.C. Leyendecker, Maxfield Parrish, Rockwell Kent, Al Hirschfeld, Robert Weaver, David Macaulay, James Gurney, and others.

The Norman Rockwell Museum is located at 9 Glendale Road in Stockbridge. The galleries are open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (until 5 p.m. on weekends, holidays, and from May through October). Admission is $12.50 for adults, $7 for students with valid ID and is always free for children 18 and younger, and members.  Gallery tours area available daily, beginning on the hour. Antennae Audio Tour of select paintings is available. Rockwell's studio, located on the Museum's grounds, is open May through October. For more information, call 413-298-4100, ext. 220 or visit www.nrm.org

About Verizon Communications
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), headquartered in New York, is a leader in delivering broadband and other wireline and wireless communication innovations to mass market, business, government and wholesale customers.  Verizon Wireless operates America's most reliable wireless network, serving nearly 66 million customers nationwide.  Verizon's Wireline operations include Verizon Business, which delivers innovative and seamless business solutions to customers around the world, and Verizon Telecom, which brings customers the benefits of converged communications, information and entertainment services over the nation's most advanced fiber-optic network.  A Dow 30 company, Verizon employs a diverse workforce of nearly 235,000 and last year generated consolidated operating revenues of $93.5 billion.  For more information, visit www.verizon.com.