If you lived in Arlington, Vermont, in the 1940s, or in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in the '50s, chances are you or someone you knew appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post . Norman Rockwell's cover illustrations, which adroitly captured the nation's homiest images of itself, were based on the neighbors and surroundings the artist saw every day. He enlisted as models not only his friends and family members but also strangers he met at the bank or at a high-school basketball game.

The camera played a vital, if little-known, role in Rockwell's high fidelity, as Ron Schick's new book, Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera , makes clear. Schick, who was given access to the entire archive at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge (where a companion exhibit is on view through May 31, 2010), learned that Rockwell first made extensive use of the camera in 1935 while scouting Hannibal, Missouri, for an illustrated volume of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer . At first, the artist thought using a camera instead of a pencil was "cheating" and said he was "thoroughly ashamed" of tracing details from projected images. But photography, Schick writes, "transformed Rockwell's work; it instantly unlocked his aesthetic, enabling him to execute whatever he envisioned."

Rockwell would choose and decorate sets, select props, outfit and coach the actors and decide where to place the tripod, though he usually left the pressing of the shutter to an assistant. The resulting photographs, Schick says, "are like Rockwell's paintings come to life. You can explore the decisions he made. It's like watching a slow-motion film of his process." The artist himself appears in some of them, mugging and gesticulating as he acted out the roles ("He was a ham," Schick says), and he was not above banging his fist to elicit a startled expression from his subjects.

In 1958, Rockwell asked Massachusetts State Trooper Richard J. Clemens, 30, who lived a few doors from the artist in Stockbridge ("Mr. Rockwell's dog would wander into my yard"), to pose for a painting that would become a cover illustration called The Runaway .

"I was told to be in my uniform at the Howard Johnson's [restaurant] in Pittsfield," recalls Clemens, now 81 and retired in Clifton Park, New York. Inside, he was introduced to 8-year-old Eddie Locke, whose father and brother Clemens already knew. Rockwell had recruited the boy from the local elementary school to play a plucky young vagabond.

To underscore the lad's meager possessions, Rockwell placed a handkerchief on a stick beneath the stool. For about an hour, Clemens and Locke sat as still as they could while the maestro adjusted their postures ("Keep one arm extended") and expressions ("Look this way and that"). "I was a little kid, but he made it easy on me," says Locke, 59, a landscaper and maintenance worker in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Clarence Barrett, a friend of Rockwell's who worked at a local garage, manned the counter.

But when The Runaway appeared on the cover of the September 20, 1958, Saturday Evening Post , Barrett had been replaced with Rockwell's assistant Don Johnson, who had been photographed separately in the artist's Stockbridge studio. And all references to Howard Johnson's had vanished. When Clemens asked why the restaurant's celebrated 28 flavors of ice cream (listed on the mirror) had been replaced with a blackboard list of daily specials, Rockwell said he "wanted a more rural look, to suggest the kid had gotten a little further out of town. That's the kind of detail he went in for."

Clemens says his police supervisors were "very pleased a Massachusetts trooper had been chosen for a magazine cover." In fact posters of the tableau were soon hanging in law enforcement agencies throughout the country. (To show his appreciation of the force, Rockwell painted a portrait of Clemens in his winter trooper's cap and gave it to the state police, who reproduced it as a Christmas card.)

Locke also recalls posing as a boy awaiting the doctor's needle in Before the Shot , a Rockwell illustration that ap­peared on the Post 's cover of March 15, 1958. The assignment required that he drop his trousers just enough to expose the upper part of his buttocks. "As you might imagine, I got teased about that," Locke says. "I played baseball as a kid, and I pitched. I always claimed that I learned how to throw inside early on."

Richard B. Woodward , a New York City-based arts critic, wrote about Ansel Adams in November's Smithsonian .

Our Plan

Responding to World War II's labor shortages, the federal government initiated the Bracero Program, which brought more than two million Mexican farmworkers— braceros —to the United States. In September, at the opening of "Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964," an exhibit at the National Museum of American History, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis commended the Institution for presenting the program's little-known story. It gave farmers much-needed workers, provided braceros with social and economic opportunities and increased the nation's ability to wage war. But it also brought suffering and exploitation. As Secretary Solis spoke, she looked up at Leonard Nadel's 1956 photographs documenting the workers' harsh living conditions. Her eyes welled with tears, and she said simply: "My father was a bracero." The exhibit will be on view through January 3, 2010, and then travel via the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (see americanhistory.sidu/bracero or sites.sidu ).

"Bittersweet Harvest" fits neatly into the Smithsonian's new strategic plan: "Inspiring Generations Through Knowledge and Discovery, 2010–2015." The plan lays out four grand challenges into which we will focus resources and create new interdisciplinary centers. Two of these challenges, "Understanding the American Experience" and "Valuing World Cultures," are exemplified in "Bittersweet Harvest." Our collections of artifacts from around the country and the globe make the Smithsonian especially aware of the diversity that strengthens our own nation and of the differences between the world's many cultures. A third challenge, "Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe," will continue our long-standing quest to understand the fundamental nature of the cosmos, using the latest technologies to explore our own solar system, meteorites, the Earth's geology and the paleontological record. The fourth challenge, "Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet," will advance our understanding of life on Earth and respond to the growing threat of environmental change.

This fourth challenge was addressed in part from September 29 to October 1 when Smithsonian specialists—including paleontologists, art historians and environmental educators—interacted with more than 3,700 participants in 50 states and 83 countries during the Smithsonian Education Online Conference on Climate Change ( smithsonianconferencerg/climate/program/ ). The Smithsonian's mission—"the increase and diffusion of knowledge"—remains; the new strategic plan focuses that mission for the next five years. As we collaborate across disciplines, undertake both formal and informal education initiatives, embrace technology and new media, and encourage entrepreneurship and partnerships, we aim to expand the Smithsonian's worldwide services. With any luck, exponentially.

G. Wayne Clough is Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution

A Spectacular Collection of Native American Quilts

American Indians have long been recognized for their superb artistry and craftsmanship, creating woven rugs and blankets, beadwork, basketry, pottery, ceremonial clothing and headdresses prized by collectors. But the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is home to one of the largest collections of a Native American art form that is hardly known at all: the quilt. Eighty-eight quilts—stitched by women from the Northern Plains tribes from the 1940s on—were acquired in 2007 from a spectacular collection put together by Florence Pulford.

Pulford, a San Francisco Bay area homemaker, first got interested in quilts of the Plains tribes in the 1960s. According to NMAI curator Ann McMullen, these quilts—many bearing a central octagonal star—functioned as both ritual and practical replacements for Plains Indians buffalo robes. Bison hides had grown scarce as herds were hunted nearly to extinction in a campaign to subdue the Plains tribes during the late 1800s. Missionary wives taught quilting techniques to Indian women, who soon made the medium their own. Many of the patterns and motifs, McMullen says, “have a look very similar to [designs painted on] buffalo robes.”

Some of the quilts, including a highly pictorial piece entitled Red Bottom Tipi (Story of the Assiniboine) , tell stories. Its dark blue stripe represents the Missouri River; figurative images depict the tepees of an Assiniboine camp and its inhabitants. But most of the Pulford quilts feature abstract geometric patterns. The museum bought 50 quilts from Pulford’s daughters, Ann Wilson and Sarah Zweng, who also donated an additional 38.

Wilson recalls the genesis of the collection: “Since the 1940s, my father, a doctor, and my mother, and later the kids, went to a wonderful camp, a working ranch, Bar 717, in Trinity County in northern California,” she says.

In the 1960s, Frank Arrow, a Gros Ventres Indian, came to Bar 717 from Montana to work with the horses and befriended Pulford and her family. “In 1968,” says Wilson, “Frank’s aunt invited my mother to come to the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana.” On that first visit, Pulford, who had a long-standing interest in Native American culture, was invited to a powwow and was given a quilt as a gift.

“My mother was stunned by the poverty on the reservation, as I was when I spent a summer [there] at the age of 21,” Wilson says. “She saw that the quilts were made using feed sacks and other bits and pieces of material. She decided that these artists deserved better materials.” Pulford began buying fabric in California and sending it to artisans at Fort Belknap, Fort Peck and other Montana reservations, sometimes even driving a horse trailer packed with quilting materials.

Pulford also began selling the quilts, using proceeds to buy additional fabric and turning over the remaining profit to the quilters. “This was the first time many of the women on the reservations had ever made any money,” Wilson recalls.

It was during one of Pulford’s early trips to Montana that she met quilter Almira Buffalo Bone Jackson, a member of the Red Bottom band of the Fort Peck Assiniboine. The two women became fast friends, staying close until Pulford’s death at age 65 in 1989. “Besides their many visits,” says Wilson, “my mother and Almira kept up a long, very intimate correspondence. They wrote about my mother’s health, about Almira losing her husband, all sorts of things.” Twenty-four of the quilts in the NMAI collection, including Red Bottom Tipi , were designed and sewn by Jackson, who died in 2004 at age 87.

“Almira was also a very talented artist in other ways,” says McMullen. In Morning Star Quilts , Pulford’s 1989 survey of quilting traditions among Native American women of the Northern Plains, she tells of a letter she got from Jackson that described a single month’s output: a baby quilt, two boy’s dance outfits, two girl’s dresses, a ceremonial headdress and a resoled pair of moccasins. “Almira was also well known for other traditional skills,” McMullen says. “Florence was especially intrigued by her methods for drying deer and antelope and vegetables for winter storage.”

Which raises, it seems, an interesting question. In the world of fine art, how many gifted artists can count a working knowledge of curing meat among their talents?

Owen Edwards is a freelance writer and author of the book Elegant Solutions .

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