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DALLAS TWP. – Hundreds of spectators turned out to Misericordia University on Thursday for a trip down memory lane with America's most popular illustrator.

The university's Pauly Friedman Art Gallery is hosting an exhibition of Norman Rockwell magazine covers on loan from the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., and on Thursday the museum's education curator delivered two lectures telling the stories behind some of the artist's best-known works.

Thomas C. Daly, curator of education for the Norman Rockwell Museum, shared anecdotes about Rockwell's life and the subjects of some of his paintings. The exhibition, continuing through February, features original copies of the 323 magazine covers Rockwell created for the Saturday Evening Post between 1916 and 1963, as well as four Rockwell oil paintings on loan from private collections.

Daly pointed out the neighbor who was livid and would avoid Rockwell in public after he portrayed her as a gossip on a Post cover, the Vermont telephone operator whose friends would teasingly ask to show off her muscles after Rockwell painted her head on Rosie the Riveter, and the many members of Rockwell's family who appeared as models in his work.

Daly also hinted at some of the reasons Rockwell's paintings were so popular in his time, and continue to be today.

Rockwell's work enjoyed tremendous popularity in the nearly 50 years he painted for the New York Post. In the early 1940s, the Post printed 4 million copies a week, but would print an additional million copies when a Rockwell painting graced the cover, Daly said.

In fact, while he is often referred to as an illustrator, most of Rockwell's Post covers have nothing to do with the articles inside, Daly said.

It was meant to grab your attention, Daly said. His name… was so recognizable that they would actually use that as part of their marketing push, that they were going to have a cover by Norman Rockwell next week.

Rockwell's work gives (people) a chance to enjoy some nostalgia, Daly said.

It also gives them a chance to look back at a time that seemed a lot simpler, he continued. And in difficult times, financially or what have you, people do tend to look for things that are comforting, and I think Rockwell does give us that comfort.

Brian Benedetti, director of the Pauly Friedman Art Gallery, said that no matter what walk of life someone comes from, they relate to Norman Rockwell.

The images, whether they were published in the Saturday Evening Post or not, are images that everybody recognizes and knows, he said.

Rockwell tells one such story, that anyone can relate to, in a 1958 Post cover called The Runaway, Daly said.

In the image, a young boy sits at a lunch counter, knapsack beneath his seat, as a state trooper listens attentively to his story. It's again Rockwell telling us a story about ourselves, Daly said. We've all been in a situation where we've either wanted to run away or did run away.

Misericordia President Michael McDowell estimated between 600 and 700 people attended Daly's two lectures, a reflection of the resurgence in popularity that not only Rockwell, but other illustrators have enjoyed in recent years.

Americana, as illustrated in Boy's Life (the Boy Scouts of America's official magazine) and the Post, is really very popular now, McDowell said. People are coming back to their roots.

The exhibition will continue through Feb. 28.

If you go

What: Norman Rockwell's 323 Saturday Evening Post Covers exhibition

Where: The Pauly Friedman Art Gallery, Walsh Hall, Misericordia University

When: Through Feb. 28

Gallery hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and 1-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

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