The Norman Rockwell Museum lost a dear friend, Shirlee Scoma, a lithographer and the first woman to run her own printing plant in New York City, when she died last May at the age of 89. She lived in Boca Raton, Florida with her husband.
Shirlee started her business, Color Lithographers, in 1956 and her customers included a number of Fortune 500 companies: Avon, Estee Lauder, General Foods. Her husband, Salvatore, joined her in the business in 1960 and they married in 1961. Shirlee's vision for her company meant fulfilling a desire to print posters and Saturday Evening Post covers, so she got in touch with Norman Rockwell and invited him to visit her printing plant which had, she told him, "the latest equipment." He was impressed with her work and her company, and returned the invitation. Unfortunately, the cost of color lithography to produce a Norman Rockwell print was high and a contract could not be negotiated with Norman's publisher.
Shirlee was not about to be dissuaded. She visited Norman at his Stockbridge studio in May, 1965 where he showed her his recent sketches from a round-the-world trip that Pan Am arranged for him to make portraits and posters advertising the airline. Shirlee admired the sketches and Norman gave her the sketchbook as a gift. Their relationship provided Shirlee with the motivation she needed to pursue a dream: to be the printer of Norman's Abraham Lincoln portrait. She contacted the president of the Lincoln Bank in Washington State and got the commission. The Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio now owns the original painting.
Shirlee's sense of history, expertise in printing, and her knowledge and appreciation of Norman Rockwell's art, inspired her decision to donate the Pan Am sketchbook which includes 33 framed drawings and one large framed oil portrait to the Norman Rockwell Museum. Her planned gift also includes her correspondence with Norman. Shirlee originally intended to make her gift of artwork and archival material through a bequest in her will but reconsidered and gave the artwork outright the year before she died. An exhibition titled Around the World with Norman Rockwell included Shirlee's Pan Am travel sketches, the Pan American Airlines national advertising campaign and a newly restored Rockwell drawing of Karachi, Pakistan, delighted Museum visitors during the spring and summer of 2007.
Through this generous gift, Shirlee and her husband Salvatore are helping the museum continue to expand its collection of Norman Rockwell's art and provide it with a home where it can be shared and appreciated by generations of art audiences.
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