Rachel Rockwell, Norman Rockwell’s great-niece, with her painting of the Easton and Redding Backgammon Club.Photo by Rick Falco

Rachel Rockwell, great-niece of renowned painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell, has immortalized the Easton and Redding Backgammon Club in her painting titled “The Board Room.”

Rockwell, a club member, was commissioned to create the portrait to commemorate the club’s first-year anniversary. The painting depicts members playing backgammon at the Easton Public Library where they meet every other Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. to chat, socialize, and most importantly, play backgammon.

“Most of the figures in the painting are based on actual members of the club,” said Rockwell. “So the painting reflects the people, as well as the library room with all the local art hanging.”

The painting captures players immersed in the game of backgammon. The subjects, men and women, fill the library’s community room. Some players are seated at tables. Others are standing, eyes cast downward on backgammon boards, watching the game at hand.

“That was intentional,” said Rockwell, a Bridgeport resident who works as a designer and project manager for a residential architectural firm in Westport. “People can get quite spirited over play.”

The Vision

Easton resident Jamie Weinstein, who founded the club, wanted to do something special for the club’s one-year anniversary. After browsing Rockwell’s art website, he fell in love with her work and asked her to paint a portrait of the club at play.

Rockwell drafted a couple of sketches before creating the portrait to pinpoint Weinstein’s vision for the piece. She succeeded in capturing the theme of community in the painting, which is exactly what Weinstein was hoping to accomplish with the formation of the club.

“This is a snapshot in time,” said Weinstein, a life-long practitioner. This is a snapshot of where we were at this point in history, and I want it to be remembered that way.” He has described Backgammon as “as exciting as blackjack, as skillful as chess, and as addicting as poker.”

Club members are pleased with the painting and amazed at Rockwell’s attention to detail.

“She captured the club and even several of the stalwart members,” said club member Victor Alfandre. “You can tell who is who.”

Ed Corey, an experienced player, said Rockwell’s painting has circulated around the backgammon community and has received much recognition.

“One of my friends sent me a picture of Rachel’s painting, thinking that I didn’t know it existed,” said Corey. “I told him that I was painted in the picture right in the middle, and it blew him away. It is amazing how interconnected we all are as individuals.”

Corey, who is affiliated with the United States Backgammon Federation, posted a picture of Rockwell’s painting on the federation’s Facebook page. The portrait resonated with followers all over the country.

“One guy really connected with it, saying that he was very happy to see how Rachel had included the whole community,” said Corey. “There are people of different ethnicities, women, men, children, people with disabilities. He commented on how backgammon brings a community together, and that it is a game for all kinds of people.”

Rockwell never thought she would immortalize the club in a painting.

“It is really an honor,” said Rockwell. “I love the idea that my painting will be used over time to reflect on one of the activities in Easton and at the library. I am a big fan and supporter of public libraries. They play such an important role in communities.”

Rockwell found Weinstein’s club through word of mouth. She joined when a friend asked her if she would be interested in attending a game with her.

“I love board games, though admittedly I’m not a very good backgammon player, so I was definitely interested,” said Rockwell.

Backgammon Club members playing at the library. Photo by Rick Falco

Rockwell comes from a family of artists and has been painting her whole life.

“I have been painting for as long as I can remember,” said Rockwell. “I grew up in a house filled with artwork and books about art. I watched my father draw comic strips at his drawing board every day.” Her father is Richard Rockwell, the nephew of Norman Rockwell, the famous illustrator.

“[My father] was always encouraging me, taking me to his classes at Parsons even when I was young, visiting museums, and buying me art supplies,” said Rockwell. “He understood the magic of a new box of crayons, no matter how many were already in the house. My father was my biggest artistic influence, and I still carry forward the drawing lessons, tips, and tricks he taught me.”

Her backgammon game has improved since joining the club.

“It’s been great, everyone is super welcoming, and my game is improving greatly,” said Rockwell. “There are players of all abilities, and everyone is super friendly. I have learned so much from other players.”

The Club

The club started with 16 people at its first meetup. At the one-year anniversary meetup on May 2, participation had climbed to 24 people. There are about 30 to 35 Backgammon clubs around the country, and they rarely get more than eight or nine people at a meetup, Weinstein said.

“To get that many people in a small town like this is a big deal,” said Weinstein. “We’re really excited about it and the prospect of building it up.”

Weinstein is working with the United States Backgammon Federation to build local clubs around the country, using the model of the Easton and Redding Backgammon club as a template.

The club welcomes different levels of experience, from open to novice players. There are no fees to play, and members play for points rather than money.

“There’s this competitive piece to it, but the competitive element is risk-free, so it’s not like a Poker game where you have money on the table and when you lose, you lose something,” said Alfandre. “This is just points. It’s a no-lose proposition, but the scoring raises those competitive juices, and that to me is a lot of fun.”

Weinstein follows each member’s progress and posts updated statistics of the club’s points on its Facebook page to keep members engaged. Various awards are handed out to club members, and people play for different prizes, like a new pair of dice or a backgammon board.

The club is a relaxing getaway for many members.

“Just that little break does wonders to lessen the stress of everyday life and gives you a respite,” said Corey.

As an experienced player, Corey gives beginner players instruction and insight on how to play but encourages it to be an enjoyable experience.

“A lot of the time, as backgammon becomes more competitive, people lose sight of the social aspect and that it’s a game to have fun,” said Corey. “I never want to steal anyone’s joy for the game by creating too much of a competitive environment.”

The club has drawn interest from surrounding towns.

“There are multiple towns represented every other week,” said Alfandre. “We’ve got Redding, Norwalk, Trumbull, and several others. We’re spreading.”

Backgammon Club members appreciating Rachel Rockwell’s painting. – Photo by Rick Falco

Weinstein said the portrait will be donated to the library where it will remain on permanent loan.

“It’s incredibly cool that this little organization that’s a year old is now enshrined on a wall at the Easton library,” said Alfandre.

Weinstein hopes that the club will continue to grow and spread the word about Backgammon.

“What I would love is for this to be some sort of historical footnote 30 years from now when there’s a big Backgammon boom,” said Weinstein. People can point back to this and say this is where it started. I want Easton/Redding to be on the map for that.

Residents are encouraged to view Rockwell’s painting at their next library visit. You can follow the club on the Easton and Redding Backgammon Club’s Facebook page by clicking here. or email Weinstein about joining the club at Jamie.Weinstein@gmail.com.

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By Sara Anastasi

Photographs by Rick Falco