For years, the painting hung in the hallway of a Massachusetts American Legion Post – alone, unattended, on a wall near the front door. “Where anyone could have walked out with it,” Ken LaBrack says with a small laugh.
For years, no one cared too much about the fate of the painting, because they thought it was nothing more than a reproduction of Norman Rockwell’s Home for Thanksgiving, which first appeared on the cover of the Nov. 24, 1945, issue of TheSaturday Evening Post. LaBrack, a past commander at the Eugene M. Connor Post 193 of Winchendon, Mass., says it wasn’t until someone walked in and offered $500 for the work that the post’s officers began reconsidering their position: Maybe this was far more than just a beautiful fake.
So one day in the early 1970s, the painting was pulled from the wall and driven to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, which is a two-hour car ride from the post. Officials at the museum examined the work, and delivered their verdict: This is an original. Post officials, staggered by the revelation, loaned the painting to the museum for safekeeping, and for nearly five decades this enduring image of a mother and her solider son happily peeling potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner remained in the care of the Rockwell Museum. Its custodians displayed the beloved work and occasionally toured it across America and around the world, most recently as part of the Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms exhibition.
Now, for the first time, Rockwell’s historic, beloved Home for Thanksgiving heads to auction serving as the centerpiece of Heritage Auctions’ Nov. 5 American Art Signature® Auction. It is estimated to sell for upwards of $4 million, befitting its status as one of Rockwell’s most enduring series of works featuring soldiers returned home from World War II.
“It stopped my heart the minute I saw it,” says Aviva Lehmann, Heritage Auctions’ Director of American Art. “Anyone who sees this painting stops in their tracks, not just because it’s a classic Rockwell, but because it pulls on their heartstrings. And it feels very fitting that America’s auction house can broker this sale of an American icon on behalf of American heroes.”
The post is now parting with the painting for practical reasons: It needs the proceeds to fund long-delayed repairs on an aging, decaying building, which LaBrack says were “being put off because we didn’t have the money.” The remaining proceeds will go into a trust, from which the interest and earnings will pay bills, operating costs and further repairs.There are some 500 active members, LaBrack says, as well as 160 Sons of the Legion and another 125 auxiliary members.
How the post wound up with the painting, also known as Thanksgiving: Mother and Son Peeling Potatoes, is a Rockwellian short story on its own. LaBrack says that several decades ago, the post began looking at building a new headquarters and seeking donations for its construction. A priest named Father Wilfred A. Tisdale caught wind of its efforts and offered by way of donation one of the paintings he kept in his private collection.