The NYC caricarturist, Norman Rockwell changes direction, and a thought about incarceration: newsletter, January 28, 2022

January 28, 2022 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,290) on Friday, January 28, 2022.

Score a small but, I hope, important victory for the First Amendment and free speech. With Corporate America and Government America – it’s getting harder to tell the difference between the two — making consistent efforts to cut back our right to speak freely and to hear new ideas, a federal judge in Florida last week issued a ruling that would warm the heart of any free-speech advocate such as myself. (Check out this article in the New York Times.)

The University of Florida, and its infinite corporate wisdom, decided that professors who testify as expert witnesses in lawsuits brought against the state of Florida were “harming” in the University, and it issued a regulation against it. Some of these professors sued. They should not have had to do that. What is the university for except to be a place to exchange information and ideas freely? The university officials who issued these regulations have done more harm than a few professors could ever inflict.

The University of Florida is not alone and losing its way on this particular issue. That is regrettable.

The federal judge in this case, Mark Walker, showed the University away back. He called the arguments that attorneys for the university made “empty,” and told the university to erase those regulations. “Empty” is exactly what arguments that limit what we can say and read amount to. They are simply about the power to compel, not the energy to create. As such ,they are not just worthless but detrimental.

Whatever you are looking at, reading, or saying these days, I hope that you can do so freely, without corporate or government threat. Have a wonderful and enjoyable and literate weekend.


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Ed Sorel, the caricaturist who is thoroughly New York City

The editors of Esquire Magazine in 1966 had an article that was destined to become one of the most famous pieces of riding in the 1960s era of the new journalism. It was Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” which chronicled Talese’s efforts, unsuccessful, to interview Frank Sinatra and instead focused on the people around him.

The editors wanted a cover that would feature that article. They asked Sinatra if he would pose for a photograph with a number of people attempting to light his cigarette. He refused.

So the editors turned instead to an illustrator named Ed Sorrel. They gave him this assignment, but they also told him he had a very short deadline.

What he came up with was a caricature of Sinatra bordered by hands stretched toward him with lit cigarette lighters. That cover became almost as iconic as the article itself, and the original now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC.

Sorel had been working as a journeyman artist and illustrator in New York City during the 1960s, as he relates in his recently published memoir Profusely Illustrated. This assignment, if completed successfully, would be a boon to his career. It would give him “more visibility than I had ever had before.” (A review by The Guardian is here.) The Amazon blurb describes the caricatures and the writing as “spirited and wickedly funny.”

His first attempts head rendering the cover war failures. He got down to the point where he had one night left before the deadline. Spurred on by the need to get it done, Sorel got his adrenaline pumping , And the result was a terrific drawing of Sinatra, perfect for the Esquire cover.

After that, Sorel landed a weekly spot in the Village Voice, New York’s countercultural newspaper of the 1960s. He also got commissions from many of the big magazine in New York, and since that time his work has appeared in the New Yorker, New York magazine, Harper’s, Time, The Atlantic, The Nation, and Rolling Stone – just to name a few.

Ed Sorel is thoroughly New York City. He was born in the Bronx, the son of Jewish immigrants, in 1929. His father was a door to door dry goods salesman whom he grew to dislike thoroughly. His mother he adored.

He went to art school Cool in New York City and then decided to set up a studio called Push Pin Studios in 1953

In 1956 he struck out on his own, and he found some market for his wild and sometimes over the top caricatures. He had no problem in satirizing icons such as the Kennedy family.

Sorel drew some of the early features for national lampoon magazine, and along the way he collected many friends in the New York publishing world. Those friends, of course, were familiar with his work and wanted it and they are magazines .

Sorel has won many awards for his work, and a 1998 the National Portrait Gallery devoted several rooms to an exhibition of his caricatures. He has published a number of books with collections of his work.

Sorel is 92 years old and still active. A documentary about his work, Nice Work if You Can Get It, directed by his son was produced in 2011 And is available for streaming on Vimeo.


The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce: Neighbor, nepotism, Newtonian, nihilist, Nirvana, nobleman

NEIGHBOR, n. One whom we are commanded to love as ourselves, and who does all he knows how to make us disobedient.

NEPOTISM, n. Appointing your grandmother to office for the good of the party.

NEWTONIAN, adj. Pertaining to a philosophy of the universe invented by Newton, who discovered that an apple will fall to the ground, but was unable to say why. His successors and disciples have advanced so far as to be able to say when.

NIHILIST, n. A Russian who denies the existence of anything but Tolstoi. The leader of the school is Tolstoi.

NIRVANA, n. In the Buddhist religion, a state of pleasurable annihilation awarded to the wise, particularly to those wise enough to understand it.

NOBLEMAN, n. Nature’s provision for wealthy American minds ambitious to incur social distinction and suffer high life.


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”


Norman Rockwell, changing with the times

By 1963, Norman Rockwell had been associated with the Saturday Evening Post for nearly five decades, had created icons for the American public, and had himself become something of an icon. As an illustrator, the title he gave himself, he had reflected in his art how many Americans envisioned themselves.

The problem was that it was a vision of white America, not Black America, and the nation was changing. 

Rockwell, too, had changed, and that led him to abandon the magazine he was most closely associated with. As Andrew Yarrow relates in a Washington Post article from late last year:

After including two Black children in his 1961 illustration “Golden Rule,” Rockwell began receiving hate mail from segregationists, and the Post told him he should paint portraits only of statesmen or celebrities. Those instructions clashed with his conscience. Severing his ties with the magazine in 1963, Rockwell told his longtime editors that he had “come to the conviction that the work I now want to do no longer fits into the Post scheme.”

He joined Look magazine, and it was there that he painted some of the hardest-hitting, most widely seen visual attacks on racism in the nation’s history.

His most famous painting of that era of his career was The Problem We All Live With (below) showing a little Black girl surrounded by four U.S. marshals walking to school. But Rockwell didn’t stop there.

He followed this with a haunting 1965 painting to accompany an article titled “Southern Justice,” of three civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi the summer before. The two-page sepia-toned image shows a White activist, about to be shot, holding the bloodied body of a Black man above the dead body of their White compatriot on a deserted road, with the shadows of the murderers on the right. Another 1967 painting showed Black and White children looking at each other, while an adult looked on disapprovingly, to illustrate a story on Black families moving into a White neighborhood.

Born in 1894, Rockwell began his artist career as a student when he received a commission to illustrate a book. Magazine editors liked his work, At 19, he became an editor for Boy’s Life magazine and regularly illustrated stories and designed covers for that publication. With a friend’s help, he submitted his first successful cover to the Saturday Evening Post in 1916. From that time on, he was a regular on their pages and cover.

Rockwell’s work appeared in many forums. He was closely associated with the Boy Scouts of America, and he did work for the U.S. Government among many other clients. By the time he left the Post in 1963, he had completed more than 300 covers for the magazine. During his lifetime, he did more than 4,000 painting and had multiple exhibitions and showings.

Rockwell died in 1978 at the age of 84.

After several moves during his career, Rockwell landed in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in 1953, and there the Norman Rockwell Museum still is open today year-round.


Alternatives to incarceration

America does itself no credit for accumulating one of the largest imprisioned populations per capita in the world. For generations now, the politically popular thing to be is “tough on crime,” and that has meant bringing more actions into the definition of criminal behavior and putting more and more people into our bulging prisons.

The U.S. has 639 people per 100,000 in jail, the most of any country in the world. No. 2 is El Salvador, which has 562. (See this chart for more data.)

Is there no alternative to this attitude? Is there little hope that we change direction? Are we not creative enough to find substitutes to incarceration?

Among a few interested in the American justice system, the idea is taking hold that we need to find different ways of keeping order in society and ensuring the domestic tranquility.

This article, recently posted on, takes to task the behavior of judges and focuses on the work of a former federal judge who is a critic of the way judges rarely seek alternatives to incarceration:

Much of the focus on justice reform has been on changing the behavior of prosecutors and police, with judges often assumed to be above the fray, according to (Nancy) Gertner, former senior judge at the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, and now a professor of practice at Harvard Law School.

But in fact little headway is possible without the active engagement of judges willing to overcome deeply engrained resistance to changes in sentencing practices, Gertner wrote in a paper commissioned for the Executive Session on the Future of Justice Policy, part of the Columbia University Justice Lab’s Square One Project on reimagining justice.

Reforming the judicial system — from city magistrates to the Supreme Court — is a vital part of creating a more just society.


Check out last week’s newsletter


Finally . . .

This week’s pen and ink: Glenshee, Scotland

Best quote of the week:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead, anthropologist (1901-1978)

Pray-as-you-go podcast

If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.

Helping those in need

Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: The mother of the detective novel, a different view of the first president, baseball’s aborted move west: newsletter, January 21, 2022



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