Saturday, November 21, 2015

Iconic painting of rural newspaper office sold for millions, for Press Club and journalism education

The National Press Club will use part of the $10.2 million from its sale of Norman Rockwell's evocative painting of a rural newspaper office for "a robust program of education and training for journalists," the club said in a press release. The anonymous buyer paid $11.589 million, including fees, in an American-art auction at Christie's in New York.

The painting, "Visit to a Country Editor," was owned by the National Press Club Journalism Institute, which said it decided to sell because the NPC Building didn't have proper security for such a valuable piece of art. NPCJI President Barbara Cochran said the proceeds will be used to "support Institute programs to uphold press freedom, develop the skills of professional journalists and communicators, and provide scholarships for future journalists," the release said. An earlier notice to members said 70 percent of the proceeds will go to the club and 30 percent to the institute.

The illustration of the Monroe County Appeal office in Paris, Mo., was published in the Saturday Evening Post of May 25, 1946. It was inspired by Jack Blanton, left, whom an accompanying article said was probably the nation's best-known "country editor," according to an article by University of Alabama journalism professor Bailey Thompson:
An editorial described the typical country weekly newspaper as an ideal symbol for democracy. The readers often knew the editor personally, and he knew human nature intimately. “Character and right purposes” on the editor’s part rewarded the newspaper with influence in the community. “For the editor and his newspaper become more or less identical in the view of its readers,” the writer concluded. . . . A sense of connectedness flows from Rockwell’s painting between the newspaper and the citizens of Monroe County.
The painting shows Blanton at his typewriter as his printer looks over his shoulder. Rockwell, who included himself in the illustration, coming in the door, spent three days in Paris "detailing the operation of the paper," reported Derek Gentile of The Berkshire Eagle after interviewing an official of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. The Post gave the painting to the Press Club in the 1960s. It was moved to the Rockwell museum in 2014, after its appraised value "increased exponentially," club President John Hughes told members.

"Blanton’s grandson, Carter, a fourth-generation newspaperman, sold the family’s share of the paper in 1992," reports Jesse Bogan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, noting that "a faded copy of the Rockwell painting" is displayed in the foyer of the Appeal, which has a print circulation of 1,000, far less than the 3,000 in Blanton's days, though the population of the county (Wikipedia map) has remained around 9,000. "The latest buyers of the paper have ties to the Chicago area," Bogan reports. "Townspeople complain that the paper isn’t what it used to be. . . . Most of the material is submitted, not reported." But he notes that the paper ran a story "about The Lake Gazette newspaper in nearby Monroe City being unwilling to run a marriage announcement for a gay couple."

Blanton's great-granddaughter, Becky Vanlandingham, 72, told Bogan, “I just wish, since it was about the country editor, that part of this money will come back to the University of Missouri School of Journalism for a scholarship in Jack Blanton’s name. I just think that’s only fair.”

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