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Family of Norman Rockwell skewers new biography

One of the many Norman Rockwell illustrations that ran on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post: “The Runaway” (left) and “After the Prom.”

One of the many Norman Rockwell illustrations that ran on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post: “The Runaway.”

Norman Rockwell’s “After the Prom.”

Upset about a book they believe is deeply flawed and factually inaccurate, the family of Norman Rockwell is finally speaking up.

“It’s being presented as the definitive biography and it’s so wrong, we just felt we had to correct the record,” the artist’s son, Thomas Rockwell, told us. “The biography is so poor and so inflammatory, we just had to respond.”

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Rockwell is talking about Deborah Solomon’s controversial book, “American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell,” which portrays its subject as a depressive who may have been secretly gay and perhaps inclined toward pedophilia.

Famous for his iconic Saturday Evening Post covers, Norman Rockwell lived in Stockbridge from 1953 until his death in 1978. Solomon’s book, which came out in November, has received generally positive reviews, which is one of the reasons the Rockwell family decided to break its silence.

Last week, Thomas Rockwell and his daughter, Abigail, issued a withering critique of the book, taking particular exception to Solomon’s suggestion that the artist was gay and harbored tendencies toward pedophilia. The family isn’t alone in thinking the book offers scant evidence of its subject’s sexual preferences.

Writing in The New York Times, Garrison Keillor said, “[Solomon] does seem awfully eager to find homoeroticism — poor Rockwell cannot go on a fishing trip without his biographer finding sexual overtones.”

The Rockwell family says they found no fewer than 96 factual errors and omissions, and they ridicule Solomon’s claim that the artist painted mostly men and boys throughout his life.

“We counted all the Post covers from 1916-1951 and all the early covers for Life and Literary Digest,” the family wrote in its critique. “There are 172 covers with girls and women, and 141 covers with boys and men. [Solomon’s] theory is demonstrably wrong. Norman Rockwell also did 9 covers of Santa Claus. We’re not sure in which category Solomon would place Santa.”

Attempts to contact Solomon or her publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, were unsuccessful Friday, but elsewhere she has claimed that sex is just a small part of the book.

Asked why the family waited so long after the book’s release to make a statement, Thomas Rockwell, who’s 80 and lives outside Poughkeepsie, N.Y., said he needed to read it first.

“I rather naively didn’t require that we see the galleys because I didn’t want to interfere,” he told us. “Everything seemed fine, but obviously it didn’t turn out that way.”

And he and the family are done talking.

“This is our last word. We are no longer going to participate in the drama Solomon has created,” the artist’s offspring wrote. “This book says a lot more about Deborah Solomon than it does about Norman Rockwell.”

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