BENNINGTON -- More than a dozen of Norman Rockwell's original models from Arlington got together at the Bennington Museum on Aug. 2 to visit and share their memories with the public. The last time Rockwell's Arlington models held their reunion at the Bennington Museum was in 1989. They did not meet again until 2010, and again in 2012.
Rockwell lived in Arlington for 14 years in the primacy of his career as a painter.
This year, there were appearances by many subjects of famous Saturday Evening Post illustrations including Mary Doyle, or "Rosie the Riveter;" Mary Whalen, the "Girl at Mirror;" Ruth Skellie, a "Marble Shooter;" and more. Most models were not even teenagers at the time they modeled for Rockwell, and are now in their 70s, 80s and 90s.
"This is a load of fun. It's a reunion of friends; It's not just a reunion of people who have had 15 minutes of fame," said Don Trachte, the son of cartoonist Donald Trachte Sr., and Rockwell model from a 1953 "Child's Life" cover that showed him and a fellow model meeting Santa Claus. "It's genuinely good to see these people, many of whom we haven't seen in several years."
Trachte sought out the Bennington Museum as a venue as he organized the reunion event. He invited 65 Arlington Rockwell models from around the country who are still alive today.
The models gave perspective to Rockwell's creative process that is otherwise seldom thought about, sometimes having worked with him for hours staging a scene for a photograph.
"A lot of people just think that it's a moment of inspiration that ideas just hit artists as they are walking down the street; It isn't," Trachte said. "They train their brains to think of that creative idea."
Museum curator Jamie Franklin shared that Rockwell often tried to capture anger, sadness and/or humor in his artwork, displaying a "full spectrum of human emotions." Often the idea in Rockwell's head and the detail he wanted to capture were not possible with photography.
"Norman Rockwell: Though his images are fictions, they are incredibly powerful fictions because he drew upon the reality that surrounded him every day in Arlington, Bennington, living and working in this area from 1939 to 1953," Franklin said.
Skellie, who was 11 years old when she modeled with two young boys while playing marbles, shared that out of each model's short-lived relationship with Rockwell, arose a unique community all of its own. "I've never dreamed I would be here and never dreamed I would meet so many lovely people," she said.
Skellie told of her family's story about how Rockwell sought her out for the painting. She said that he had asked around town specifically looking for a young red-headed girl with pigtails and brown eyes.
After being referred to young Skellie as her father's daughter, Rockwell immediately traveled across state borders to find her at her grandmother's house and set her up in a photograph that same day. Skellie's story elaborates on the process that flowed through Rockwell's mind, basing his subject off of an idea, rather than an idea off of a subject.
A family neighbor to Rockwell for 10 years, the Edgertons, were friends of Rockwell and were often staged subjects of his paintings. Jim Edgerton was 9 years old at the time he, his father and his teenage brother were asked to stage profiles for Rockwell's "Growth of a Leader" illustration for the Boy Scouts of America's calendar.
Edgerton elaborated on the story, sharing that he and his father weren't Scouts, and had to borrow uniforms from a friend. Edgerton was the fourth generation of his family to serve as a model for many of Rockwell's paintings.
Not only did Rockwell stage detail and his subjects to his creative imagination, he brought together people in his community that could help him gain perspective and a place in Arlington's history, having incorporated more than 200 local models into his artworks during his time there.
To learn more about the artist, visit the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Sugar Shack on Sugar Shack Lane, on Historic Vermont Route 7A in Arlington. Find it online at http://www.sugarshackvt.com/.
Find the Bennington Museum on Facebook or online at http://www.benningtonmuseum.org/.