High School Principal’s Norman Rockwell Painting to Fund Scholarship

The 74-year-old painting was auctioned at Sotheby's for $1.9 million last year.

Photo courtesy Norman Rockwell Museum/State House News Service

Photo courtesy Norman Rockwell Museum/State House News Service

The Massachusetts House has cleared the way for a 74-year-old Norman Rockwell painting, which hung in a high school principal’s office for decades, to pay for a scholarship fund for students.

Rockwell, a native of Stockbridge, donated the 1941 painting, “Willie Gillis in Convoy,” to Gardner High School principal F. Earl Williams, who sought to established an art collection at the school in the 1940s.

“Convoy” was unique, as it was the only entry in Rockwell’s Willie Gillis series to portray the fictional World War II infantryman near the conflict itself. Jeremy Clowe, manager of media services at the Norman Rockwell Museum, told the State House News Service he believes this is why the Saturday Evening Post ultimately rejected it.

The painting hid in plain sight inside the principal’s office at Gardner High for years, until, upon discovery, the school committee decided to sell it at auction at Sotheby’s in May 2014. An anonymous buyer snagged the Rockwell original for $1.9 million and donated it to the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Last week, the House passed Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik’s bill authorizing the establishment of the Williams-Rockwell Educational Gift Fund. Half of the painting’s sale price, $950,000, will fund scholarships for students pursuing a career in the arts, while the other half will fund scholarships for students taking a more academic route. There was some disagreement over how the $1.9 million should be split, however.

“The City Council wanted to express their authority and decided, well, it was a piece of art, so it should only go toward art,” Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke told SHNS. “And I said no way in heck…so I vetoed it. And then, aha! It forced us to work together, and like all partnerships, we landed in the middle eventually.”

Hawke also described the nine-trustee scholarship fund as “sort of like having 2,000 bake sales all at once.”

Zlotnik’s bill now awaits a vote in the Senate.