Just Plain Folk: On Norman Rockwell's Models
December 27, 2010
As we prepare to say farewell to the exhibition, Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, we take a look at some of the people who helped Rockwell tell his story—the people who posed for him. Rockwell used models that he found in everyday life. They may have looked like they came from central casting, but they often came right out of Main Street, and frequently from the small towns of Arlington, Vermont, where Rockwell lived with his family from 1938 to 1953, and Stockbridge, Massachusetts later on. In fact, more than one hundred Arlingtonians modeled for Rockwell during those fifteen years. Last summer, as reported in newspapers near and far, from the Rutland Herald to the New York Times, Arlington held a reunion of Rockwell models, with about eighty people in attendance. "It was one of the most positive things we ever did," said Berta Maginniss, executive director of the Manchester, Vermont, Chamber of Commerce. "This was the first Rockwell model reunion in Vermont. It was well attended, with lots of excitement. Many of the models did not recognize one another as they were children when they posed for Rockwell."
Don Trachte, Jr., whose father was a cartoonist (the Henry series) was raised in Arlington, and was instrumental in organizing the Rockwell Model Reunion. In 1953 he posed for the Rockwell painting, Santa's Visitors, along with Melinda Pelham, daughter of Rockwell's photographer, Gene. "Melinda and I were just little kids at the time, five or six years old," Trachte told Eye Level the other day, "When we arrived at the studio, my father told me I had to change into my pajamas and hold hands with Melinda. I became embarrassed, till finally Jenny McKee, who modeled for Rockwell and was also my babysitter, had to calm me down. I had this funny thing about closing my eyes, and Rockwell is all about being wide-eyed. At the last minute, Rockwell turned us around so that we were facing Santa Claus. For him it must have been a crazy, last minute change as he had the composition already worked out in his head. Long story short, I was never invited back as a model. Now, of course, I can kick myself." That image was featured on the cover of Child Life magazine.
Sculptor Jim Stafford wasn't born in Arlington, Vermont. The man who posed for Rockwell's Window Washer, was twenty years old when he met the artist whom he credits with encouraging his own artistic pursuits. It was 1960, and Stafford was stationed at Ft. Devens army base in Massachusetts, near the Rockwell home in Stockbridge. Five years earlier, while still in high school, Stafford took a correspondence class with Rockwell. He wrote a letter to Rockwell and soon he and a friend were invited by Rockwell to his home. As Stafford tells it, "when we arrived at the door, Rockwell, laughing, looked me up and down, and said, 'you'll do.'" When Stafford asked 'do what?' Rockwell replied, "Oh, I'm working on this painting and I need a window washer. He and his friend spent the next three days with Rockwell, while Stafford posed for the painting of a window washer in a Manhattan skyscraper who flirts with a secretary on the other side of the glass, now in the collection of Steven Spielberg. For the three days, Stafford was given a check for thirty dollars. “The funny thing about that was when I tried to cash it to buy beer for my army buddies, no one believed it was real. And now I wish I wouldn’t have cashed it,” Stafford said. Stafford was unable to make it to the East Coast for either the exhibition or the model reunion, though a new reunion is planned for 2011 in Vermont. "Oh yeah," Stafford added, "There's still a few of us models around."
Indeed, some of Rockwell's models came to American Art to see the exhibition, including Hank Bergmans, pictured above, who told us that Rockwell referred to him as "his favorite model." Here's what he had to say in our comment book:
It is thrilling for me to visit this exhibit. In fact, I am, or was, the model for the boy scout sketch for "Can't Wait" which was started over 40 years ago. I was so pleased to find George Lucas had become the owner. The picture had been hanging in my childhood home for all this time and gave myself and my family such enjoyment.
Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg is on display until January 2, 2011. The exhibition will be open, at 10 a.m. beginning December 26 through the end of the show.
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