ATLANTA, GA. – An original Norman Rockwell oil painting that was created for a Coca-Cola calendar in 1931 has been discovered and acquired by The Coca-Cola Company. The painting, which has never been publicly displayed, has been out of sight for seven decades. The company acquired the artwork in early June from a retired printing company executive who had obtained it from the firm that produced the original calendar.
“The Barefoot Boy” depicts a Tom Sawyer look-alike holding a bottle of Coca-Cola with his dog beside him. At the time it was introduced, the work was the most popular calendar for Coca-Cola ever, with close to 2 million distributed. The same artwork also appeared on trays, school tablets, window display pieces and outdoor posters.
The Coca-Cola Company commissioned Rockwell to paint six different illustrations, including four calendars, one billboard and one magazine ad for The Saturday Evening Post.
“The Barefoot Boy” was discovered when a relative of the owner contacted The Coca-Cola Company.
“During the 1930s, The Coca-Cola Company commissioned some of the finest artists in America to produce commercial work. Norman Rockwell was the greatest of these artists, and The Coca-Cola Company is proud of its association with him,” said Phillip Mooney of the archives department.
Rockwell’s model for “The Barefoot Boy,” Dan Grant, is now 82 and living in Hollister, Calif. At the time of the painting, Grant was an 11-year-old child actor who appeared in 38 films between 1927 and 1933. They included one Our Gang silent film comedy, Tom Sawyer with Jackie Coogan, Fireman, Save My Child with Joe E. Brown, Platinum Blonde with Jean Harlow, and The Champ with Jackie Cooper and Wallace Beery.
“Norman Rockwell was a nice gentleman,” Grant recalled. “He asked what I was doing in school and what sports I liked. I worked with him for five days in a loft studio above a garage in Alhambra, Calif. Every morning I rode a yellow cab for about 12 miles from where I lived. I got the job through central casting. I was a little lucky being in the right place at the right time. I enjoyed it completely.”
Following his movie career and school, Grant served in the US military during World War II and the Korean Conflict. He spent most of his life in the personnel field, retiring in 1977.
The Coca-Cola company not only worked with Rockwell, but also with other major illustrators, including N.C. Wyeth, Gil Elvgren, Frederick Mizen, Frederic Stanley, and Haddon H. Sundblom, who is famous for creating more than 40 original oil paintings of Santa Claus for Coca-Cola.
In addition to “The Barefoot Boy,” the other two works commissioned by The Coca-Cola Company from Rockwell that the company has located are “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” 1934, and “Out Fishin’,” 1935.
The three works the company is continuing to search for are “The Old Oaken Bucket,” 1932, which depicts a boy sitting on a well with a small wooden barrel of bottles of Coca-Cola in his lap; “Wholesome Refreshment,” a 1928 sepia tone magazine ad for The Saturday Evening Post in which a smiling young man in a sweater and knickers lounges with a Coca-Cola. In the background, adults are dressed in their finest 1920s attire and children are playing. A legend at the bottom of the ad declares, “8 million a day.”
“Office Boy – 4 p.m. – The Pause That Refreshes,” the third painting, depicts a 1930 outdoor poster in which a smiling boy, dressed in a suit and tie and carrying a tray with two bottles of Coca-Cola and two bell shaped glasses, who is opening a door that says “Vice President.”