Now it can be told: Norman Rockwell ""is not a folksy man at all."" Erik Erikson, who has treated Rockwell, said so, further observing that the upbeat artist had not had a very happy life: ""Perhaps he has created his own happiness."" On that plausible note, the Director of the Franklin Mint--whose first ""collectibles"" (plugged fore and aft here) Rockwell designed--launches into an otherwise flatfooted, wide-eyed account of the famous illustrator's life. Its facts do, however, give pause. Rockwell (b. 1894) was a skinny, awkward, acutely self-conscious youngster whose only distinction was a precocious ability to draw. One grandfather had painted meticulously detailed landscapes; Rockwell, Sr., read Dickens aloud; and young Norman envisioned the scenes in detail. At 15, he dropped out of high school to study art (kudos for the Art-Students-League instruction of his day) and, after two years, struck out on his own. Boys Life snapped him up and, in 1916, just after his twenty-second birthday, he sold his first two covers to canny George Horace Lorimer of the Saturday Evening Post, beginning the close association that lasted until the Post changed hands--and image--in 1963. An early, incompatible marriage clouded his raging success and he was subject to spells of depression about his work (abstraction twice ""scared the devil out of me. I figured I was finished for sure""); but supportive artist-friends, Lorimer's unstinted backing, a stable second marriage--which produced three sons--and removal to the rural environs he prized kept him working away. Pictorially speaking, ""He always wanted to paint stories about human beings""; he favored oils over watercolors because he could re-work facial details; he collected props assiduously and, in later years, used photographs both to supplement his sketches (and spare his sitters) and to extend his range: everything apparently had to be seen. But, unwilling or unable to defend his point of view, he eschewed teaching. The sidelights, in short, are not unrewarding to the art-minded; but it's the audience for the Post covers, the WW II Four Freedoms posters, and even Walton's collectibles that will most respond to the story of how success didn't spoil Norman Rockwell--who may not be uncomplicated but sure is, with his bustling third wife, just folks.