How Rockwell’s Ichabod Crane Came to Draper Elementary
A disheveled, scrawny, 18th century school teacher always keeps a watchful eye on the media center at Draper Elementary School. Housed behind a glass case, Ichabod Crane peers warily over his shoulder at the viewers behind him, ready to pounce on any unruly, recalcitrant children. Ichabod Crane was painted by one of America’s most beloved artists, Norman Rockwell, and has been the property of the school since 1951. Why is an original Norman Rockwell painting hanging in a nondescript public elementary school in the small town of Draper? The answer to that questions goes back almost a century ago.
In the 1920s, the principal of Draper Park School was Reid Beck. He loved art and enjoyed visiting the Springville Art Exhibit annually. Mr. Beck thought it would be a great idea to start an art collection for his school, and after getting the enthusiastic approval of the faculty and Draper residents, the art collection was born. Several pieces were donated by the community for the nascent collection and then the first official purchase by the school was made in 1928. The painting was called Spring Fancies, by Lee Greene Richards, a student at the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and an art professor at the University of Utah. From that point on, a delegation would go every April to Springville to select a new piece, even through the Great Depression. And each year, the collection got bigger and more diverse. Now, when a person roams the halls of Draper Elementary school, they can see a multitude of mountain landscapes, still lifes, Native American pieces, pioneer paintings and even some post-modern work. There is a great body of work that has evolved from Richards’ beautiful impressionistic spring tree.
An art committee was formed each school year, comprised of ninth graders, who would go to the Springville Art Exhibit and select a piece to be purchased by the student body as a class gift. It became a prized tradition and it was an honor to be on the committee. In 1951, LaMar Walbeck was chosen as the head of the committee. He was the only student on the committee who was taking art classes and seemed to be a good choice for the job. Walbeck, and several other students, shouldered the responsibility of making the big decision of which paintings the student body would vote on to buy for the collection, which by this time had become quite impressive. The adults left it up to the kids to decide. As they perused the offerings available, some of the members were drawn to art that had a correlation with the Korean War, which was now a full-blown conflict. They had a desire to pick something that represented events applicable to their lives at the time. However, a war painting was not appealing to LaMar Walbeck. He insisted that they keep looking. Providence smiled kindly on them. As they continued their search, Walbeck was stunned to see that Rockwell’s painting, Ichabod Crane, was one of the pieces for sale. Unfortunately the price tag was hefty: $1,300. Undaunted, the committee took it upon themselves to request that the curator ask Rockwell himself if he would be willing to lower the price. Mr. Rockwell willingly lowered the price to $800, because students would be buying it. It was still incredibly expensive and would be difficult for them to attain, but they agreed to the price and determined to make it happen.
In 1936, Norman Rockwell was commissioned to illustrate new editions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The illustrations were successful and he once said,
“Years ago I decided to do a series of pictures of the celebrated characters of American fiction. The series was to be published as a book, each picture accompanied by an excerpt from the work in which the character figured. I painted Ichabod Crane and Captain Ahab and then gave up the series, partly because I had lost interest in it and partly because I disliked the idea of a book of excerpts.” From Arthur L. Guptill’s Norman Rockwell Illustrator.
In “Norman Rockwell’s America” by the Reader’s Digest, it claims that Rockwell was not able to find a buyer for this series of paintings. Maybe that is why it ended up in Springville, Utah, a few years later. But there were now buyers for Ichabod Crane; the students from Draper and Arnold Friberg, the famous Mormon artist, well known for his 15 “pre-visualization” paintings for the Cecil B. DeMille film The Ten Commandments. Friberg was hoping to buy the Rockwell painting and was not happy when he found out he had been undersold by some kids in a small farm town in the Salt Lake valley.
Draper Park School had to rally and work hard to earn the money to buy the painting in less than one month. The committee concocted any and every scheme they could think of to raise $800. They did bake sales, car washes, babysitting and hosted a gym jamboree at the school, where they sold expensive dinners to patrons. Many Draper residents also made generous donations to the art fund. In the end, the student body was successful and the painting was theirs. Now, Ichabod Crane is the crown jewel of the Reid and Willda Beck Art Collection. The 1951 ninth grade class is still a tight-knit group who continue to hold reunions quite frequently. Walbeck believes that unity of spirit can be credited in large part to Rockwell’s Ichabod Crane and the toil it took to acquire it.
In the main office of Draper Elementary, there are three large binders that a visitor can use to guide them through the collection, with artists like Florence Ware, Howell Rosenbaum, Cornelius Salisbury, Henri Moser, Eric Christensen, Al Rounds, Harman Struck, and even LaMar Walbeck, just to name a few. Yes, Walbeck became a watercolor artist himself after he retired as an accountant in 1983 and still actively paints. Next to Mrs. Haggerty’s first grade class, visitors can enjoy a mountain scene by that ‘happy tree’ guy, Bob Ross. It is worth it to make a visit to the school and see the collection that helped to unify the Draper community, a collection to make any art collector proud.
If you really love Ichabod Crane and would like a print of it for your home, the Draper Visual Arts Foundation sells canvas print replicas of it on their website. Draper Park School obtained exclusive rights from the Norman Rockwell Family Trust to be able to sell the prints and now money from sale of prints benefits the community. DraperVisualArts.org.