In name and fame

By David Skolnick

Peter Rockwell’s works go on display at Butler branch

HOWLAND — Peter Rockwell, the youngest son of one of America’s most famous artists, didn’t want to get into the family business.

“Not just because of my father [Norman Rockwell], but because there were a lot of artists in the family,” he said. “I never particularly wanted to be an artist.”

When he left for college in 1954, one of Peter’s brothers was studying to be a painter and the other a poet.

But while recovering from a near-deadly fencing accident, he looked for another, and less dangerous, hobby. That hobby, at his mother’s suggestion, was sculpting.

More than 50 years later, Rockwell continues to sculpt.

About 80 of his sculptures and prints are on display through May 24 at the Butler Institute of American Art’s Trumbull Branch, 9350 E. Market St., Howland. The exhibit opened Sunday.

“I’m inspired by acrobats, the circus, trees and my own fantasy,” Rockwell said of his work.

While obviously a great admirer of his father’s work — as well as a model for several of his father’s Saturday Evening Post covers as a child — Rockwell said his art is “completely different” from his father’s.

Louis A. Zona, Butler’s executive director and chief curator, describes the sculptures as “so playful. I especially love his acrobatic pieces. They’re fun to look at.”

Some of Rockwell’s acrobatic sculptures are hung from the ceiling of the museum.

“They sure are imaginative,” Zona said.

Rockwell “moved in a completely different direction” from his father, Zona said. “It’s natural. When you’re the offspring of someone like that, you don’t want to compete in the same ballpark. He has excellent DNA.”

The Butler in downtown Youngstown proudly displays “Lincoln the Railsplitter,” a 1965 painting by Norman Rockwell.

When asked about it, Rockwell’s son said, “I prefer his Post covers to that one, but it’s a nice painting.”

Joseph Swanson of Ravenna, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Summit Christian School in Cuyahoga Falls, was thrilled to meet Rockwell at the exhibit reception.

As part of a class, he had to do a term paper on a famous deceased artist. Joseph chose Norman Rockwell.

While working on the project, he became sick and missed about a week of class.

For extra credit, he contacted Peter Rockwell asking about his childhood as one of the famous artist’s sons.

The information arrived two weeks ago via e-mail with an invitation for Joseph to attend Sunday’s reception.

Joseph came with about eight fellow Summit Christian students, his art teacher and his parents.

“It’s perfect timing,” he said.

When asked about Peter Rockwell’s work, Joseph said, “It’s fabulous. It’s outstanding.”