It was a shock. Ruth and I walked into the National Scouting Museum in Irving, a suburb of Dallas, and were immediately told that it was closing. The semi-official date for the Irving museum to lock its doors is May 31, 2017. Much is yet to be decided, like the fate of this honorable museum’s greatest treasure, its collection of Norman Rockwells.
The reasons for the decision to close such a prestigious institution are speculative. There are several theories. The 2 docents whom Ruth & I talked to, Gale and Carolyn, were sad yet stoic. This was an especially difficult-to-accept blow to Gale, who has been a volunteer for 42 years.
The National Scouting Museum possesses 51 original Norman Rockwell works of art. Their value is incalculable. The Rockwell Gallery will close on February 15, 2017. I hope that this amazing collection can be kept together. Carolyn and Gale told us that there were mold issues in the current venue affecting the works. Indeed, about half a dozen of them had been removed for conservation.
According to Gale, the Rockwell Gallery will reopen on March 17, 2017, with a collection of “Boy’s Life” cover prints but no real Rockwells. This museum’s scouting artifacts will be sent to Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico. The expanded Ernest Thomas Seton Museum will have them. There is also the real possibility that there will be a new museum at the Summit Bechtel Reserve Boy Scout High Adventure Base near the New River Gorge National River, a unit of the National Park Service in West Virginia.
Norman Rockwell was never a boy scout. Walt Disney, Arnold Palmer, and John Glenn, the astronaut and Senator for 25 years who died in December, 2016, were. When the Boy Scouts of America was founded in 1910, Rockwell was already 16 years old. When he was 18, Rockwell was hired to illustrate stories that would appear in the organization’s magazine, Boys’ Life. He left BSA for the Saturday Evening Post 4 years later, but returned in 1926 when a publisher, Brown & Bigelow, put one of his illustrations on its scouting calendar. Few kept this calendar at the end of the year and, like a Honus Wagner baseball card, it would be worth a lot now. Rockwell created 471 art works for Boy Scout of America guidebooks, promotional materials, etc. before submitting his last commission after a 64 year association. From the beginning Brown and Bigelow suggested a theme for each calendar, and Rockwell often used neighbors, family members, and himself to create wholesome, enduring images. He was eventually paid $10,000 a year, an impressive amount especially during hard times. Rockwell submitted his last Boy Scout commission, a calendar illustration called The Spirit of ’76, when he was 82.
And so the official museum of the Boy Scouts of America will be no more, at least temporarily. What will happen to its rare scouting artifacts and impressive Norman Rockwells is yet to be determined. When I learn more, I’ll certainly pass the information along.
The 4 Rockwells from top to bottom are:
“We, Too, Have a Job to Do” and “I Will Do My Best” both 1943,
America’s Manpower Begins with Boypower” (1969) and my favorite, “Pointing the Way”, (1960)