Norman Rockwell’s Models, In and Out of the Studio

The Stories of Rockwell’s Beloved Vermont Models

Norman Rockwell's Models, In and Out of the Studio

Most of Norman Rockwell’s life has been chronicled, but S.T. Haggerty has filled a hole with his book Norman Rockwell’s Models, In and Out of the Studio. It is written from the mouths of those who posed for the most famous artist in American History in his studio in the quaint village of West Arlington, Vermont as the thunder of World War II echoed through the Green Mountains. His readers will be intrigued as they learn about the lively sessions he conducted with his models. You will be charmed as you learn about the lives of the models and about the good times they enjoyed with the man who insisted, “Call me “Norman.”

Few people are even aware that Rockwell lived in Vermont, but it was in that studio in the Green Mountains from 1938 to 1953 that he painted his most iconic and beloved masterpieces, including the Four Freedoms and the Thanksgiving 1951 cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Film producer George Lucas bought the masterpiece at Sotheby’s for $46 million, the highest price ever paid at auction for a painting done by an American.

Rockwell selected the majority of his models from those who lived a mile down a gravel road on each side of the Green. The Rockwells resided in a 1792 White Colonial at the foot of a mountain called Big Spruce, where cows and horses grazed. To find models that would give his paintings a genuine feel, the artist made friends in that agricultural community at clubs, recreational activities, or the school his children attended. “Norman became one of us,” they told the author during over 100 hours of interviews.

They knew him to be generous. He gave them work to earn money and paid for tennis lessons. He would tell neighbors, “Go down to the Green Mountain Diner and tell Frankie Hall (the owner) I said you could take one.” He and his wife Mary constantly encouraged young people, and some went to go to college because of them.

The charming artist would appear at homes in the village and ask for clothing, shoes, and dogs that he needed for props. He constantly asked anyone nearby his studio to come in and comment on a painting on his easel.

The author, a professional journalist, is well qualified to write an intimate portrayal of the Vermonters’ experiences as models and friendships with the artist because he also lived, worked, and joined the models in activities in West Arlington. Together they hayed the fields, danced at the pavilion, and swam under the covered bridge on the Green in front of Rockwell’s former studio.

In the studio, Norman was the director, the models the actors. All sorts of antics evoked emotions ranging from grave concern to fear to laughter. He was delighted to discover that the regular country people revealed their true emotions on their faces, a refreshing change from the stiff professional models he’d been using in the New York City area.

Call Me Norman is full of fascinating anecdotes, such as about the time he discovered a model for Tired Salesgirl just before the deadline. He had no idea the young woman’s mother would seek approval from her photographer, priest, and the police. Even then she remained stubborn. Norman approached a U.S. Marine at a square dance on the Green next to a cornfield because he needed a model for a 1945 painting called Marine Homecoming. The young Marine, soon to be shipped to the Pacific, growled, “I ain’t posin’ for no darned artist.”  

Each chapter has a dramatic beginning, entertaining middle, and an ending that leaves the reader with wonderment. They Called Him Norman is a timeless book, a valuable piece of American History. The artist’s son Thomas Rockwell, a best-selling author, told the author, “This is a wonderful project.” Son Jarvis exclaimed, “You’ve got to tell these stories.”