Secrets Behind the Wall: The Don Trachte Replicas

November 5, 2017 – January 28, 2018

Picture of Don Trachte at the drawing board

Image Caption: Don Trachte sitting at the drawing board working on his strip, Henry.

Don Trachte was a cartoonist who became close friends with Norman Rockwell. In 1962, Trachte bought Rockwell’s 1954 Saturday Evening Post cover painting, Breaking Home Ties, for $900 and it quickly became his most prized possession. In 2002, he loaned Breaking Home Ties to an exhibition at the Norman Rockwell Museum. However, experts were puzzled over discrepancies between the loaned painting and the printed Saturday Evening Post cover.

In 2005, a year after Don’s death, the Trachte family made a surprising discovery – a false wall was exposed in Trachte’s studio concealing Rockwell’s original painting along with seven other paintings by artists including Gene Pelham, Mead Schaeffer, Virginia Webb and George Hughes.

Trachte’s sons believe he may have painted the nearly exact copies to prevent his estranged wife from ever obtaining the original artworks, which remained hidden for 32 years. In 2006, Breaking Home Ties sold for $15.4 million, setting the record price for a Rockwell painting at that time. The current record is over $46 million. The exhibition includes Trachte’s replicas alongside many of the original paintings by beloved illustrators.

Secrets Behind the Wall: The Don Trachte Replicas was organized by the National Museum of American Illustration (NMAI).

More About the Story from Don Trachte Jr.: 

In 1954, Norman Rockwell struggled with the idea of how to express the emotion a father feels when a son leaves home for the first time. Finally, he found the right characters and setting to tell the story of the sadness of an old man juxtaposed with the exuberance of his youthful son who is looking forward to an exciting future. The painting, called Breaking Home Ties, was published on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on September 25, 1954

In 1962, Breaking Home Ties was purchased by Don Trachte, A fellow artists and cartoonist who lived near Rockwell.  The painting hung in Don Trachte’s studio for the next 40 years until it was moved to a museum for safe keeping.

While the painting was on view in the museum, concerns by art experts and curators over coloration differences between the painting and the original Saturday Evening Post  began to escalate and reached a boiling point in 2004, when one art critic proclaimed that the painting in the museum was a “third rate replica.”

Alarmed, my brother and I began to put the pieces of a puzzle together as we uncovered a series of clues about the painting.  In the beginning, our sleuthing activities made me apprehensive and I was unable to accept even the thought of a replica. As evidence began to mount I found myself engrossed in the possibility of a replica made by an unknown artist, but I was completely astounded when we discovered that my father had devised a plot to reproduce the painting and hide the original, and that what we thought was an original Rockwell painting had been my dad’s replica all along.

On November 29, 2006, the painting sold at a Sotheby’s auction in New York for $15.4 million. It was the highest amount ever paid for a Norman Rockwell painting at that time. I am convinced to this day that the record price received was due to the intrigue around the tale of these two paintings, a story of discovery that continues to mesmerize. For who among us has never dreamed of finding hidden treasure?

About Don Trachte, Jr.:

Don is the eldest son of artist Donald Trachte. He was born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1947. During his childhood in the 1950s in the wholesome environment of Arlington, Vermont, where he was raised as a neighbor and a friend of Norman Rockwell’s family, Don grew up with many of the people depicted in Rockwell’s paintings. He attended Arlington High School and Western State College of Colorado with a major in economics. His interest in science and geology led to expeditions to Antarctica and Greenland.

Trachte has worked for several aerospace companies in sales/marketing and program management. He is currently cataloguing his father’s large collection of artwork and artifacts collected and give lectures about his experience of discovering an original Norman Rockwell painting behind a secret wall. Don lives in Bennington, Vermont.

Members’ Lecture & Reception for Secrets Behind the Wall and Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera:

Thursday, November 9, 2017
Lecture: 6 – 6:45 p.m.; Reception 7 – 8:30 p.m.
Members: $50 / Non-members $100

Tickets go on sale October 20th. Please RSVP by November 6.

The opening reception will include presentations from Mary Whalen Leonard (former Rockwell model) and Don Trachte, Jr.  Enjoy catering by Chef Narvell and music from the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra’s string trio.