the runaway norman rockwell
The only prop that suggests a disturbance is the wannabe hobo’s stick and handkerchief.
The setting is pristine; this is no ordinary diner. It’s the Platonic ideal of a diner, where the floor is immaculate, the counter gleams, and even the waiter’s clothing and towel are unsullied.
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.
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.”
The Runaway by Norman Rockwell
Recently, my son and I were discussing this painting by Norman Rockwell, “The Runaway”.
Norman Rockwell’s The Runaway appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post published on September 20, 1958. This is a timeless favorite of Rockwell collectors, a true classic for the ages.
This classic Norman Rockwell painting depicts a policeman and a little boy sharing the lunch counter at a diner.
No details were overlooked by Rockwell: stools, counter-top, coffe pot, cup, sugar dispenser – even the radio mounted on its shelf on the wall. Television was very new when this was painted. Radio was how people stayed up on current events.
The only character whose entire face we can see is the man in white behind the counter. He looks amused at the situation unfolding before him.
The largest character is, of course, the policeman. He is the blue uniformed authority figure in this painting. In addition to clothing part of his uniform, Rockwell spares no detail on his accessories. We see his pistol, his handcuff pouch and his citation book. I am unsure what the pouch attached to the shoulder strap is.
The cop looks less amused than the man in white. He is affecting a professional demeanor toward the situation.
Sitting high off the floor on top of his green topped stool is the runaway himself. Is he engaged in a staring contest with the cop?
He has apparently just left home. His clothes are still neatly tied inside his red bandana and fastened to his stick. The jeans and t-shirt he is wearing still look neat and fairly clean. He is not wearing his jacket; it is laying in his lap.
Did the boy bring money to buy lunch with? The man behind the counter has his hands clasped and seems to be waiting for an order. Spagetti and meatballs is the “SPECIAL TODAY.”
In this illustration, Norman Rockwell treats us to three characters and their surroundings, the local diner and depicts in a humouristic way a child’s whim for freedom. This iconic image recalls the innocence of a bygone era. Having packed up all of his worldly possessions in his neatly bundled knapsack, the boy has set out on his quest, stopping at a diner for some sustenance. A police officer sits next to him and smiles warmly at the boy, earnestly asking him to reconsider his departure.
This painting is definitely cherished by all Americans!
Natural speed please
The painting captures the highest ideal of police work: helping someone in need at a vulnerable moment. This is an ideal that especially resonates today, with all the police shootings rocking our country. Rockwell’s painting harkens back to an idyllic time and a comforting setting, defined by good old American comfort food.
What setting could be more American than a diner counter? Well, that’s if you were white. Segregation prevented most African-Americans in 1958 from eating at most lunch counters, which was the protest setting that started the Civil Rights movement.