More than a dozen Rockwell models to reunite in Arlington
ARLINGTON -- The first time Mary Hall was asked to model for Norman Rockwell more than 70 years ago her mother wanted to make sure she looked her very best. Her mother made sure she wore her finest dress and then curled her hair before dropping her off at Rockwell's home in Arlington.
Unknown to her mother, none of that would be necessary for what Rockwell had in mind for the young, blond haired girl. Instead, Rockwell asked Hall, who was five or six at the time, to pose as a victim being saved by a Boy Scout from the flood of 1938.
"He evidently didn't tell my mother what he had in mind. So I got there in my best outfit, a birthday party outfit, and he said I was to be a flood victim," Hall recalls. "I had to take off my outfit ... I was in my underwear and he took me in the kitchen and put my head under a faucet of water and got rid of my curls. Then he put a lovely old patchwork quilt around me."
For the next few hours Rockwell had Hall pose in the arms of Horace Young, a boy in his teens from Sandgate, with the blanket wrapped around her as Rockwell's photographer took a series of photographs. So many pictures were taken, and adjustments were made in how Rockwell wanted the pose, at some points an older man took Young's place holding Hall to give the teenager's arms a break until the exact look and angle was captured.
Although the scenario of being wet, wrapped in a blanket and held by strangers may not have been what Hall or her mother expected, Rockwell had such a way of putting people at ease that she loved the experience.
"He always made an effort to make sure you had a lot of fun while you were there doing it," said Hall, who grew up in Arlington and now lives in Bennington. "Norman Rockwell was always so considerate."
The image later became a part of a Boy Scouts of America calendar and through the experience Rockwell found himself a model in Hall, who he would end up using in three more paintings.
Hall, whose father was a real estate agent and sold Rockwell his home, was one of more than 200 models from the Arlington area Rockwell used from 1939 to 1953 when he lived in town.
On Sept. 29, more than a dozen of those models will be reuniting at the Norman Rockwell Exhibition in Arlington to catch up and share stories about the iconic painter and illustrator whose art captured everyday scenarios and graced more than 300 covers of The Saturday Evening Post.
Hall's connection to Rockwell included more modeling after her first experience. Next was "Little Lord Fauntleroy," followed by inclusion in "Christmas Homecoming," which was the cover illustration of The Saturday Evening Post in December 1948, and lastly an image titled "Homecoming" when she was about 16 years old that appeared as a Hallmark Christmas card.
Each experience comes with a unique story -- such as the Great Dane beside her in "Little Lord Fauntleroy" -- which was painted by Rockwell using to separate photographs of the dog and Hall -- was supposed to be a Bullmastiff.
"The dog was supposed to be a mastiff but there weren't any around so he used Jean Henry, who lived on Main Street, he used her Great Dane."
While she does not have a favorite of the four paintings she posed for, Hall said "Little Lord Fauntleroy" is her least because of the black velvet outfit Rockwell had her dressed in.
In "Christmas Homecoming," Hall is included among a crowd of people who include members of Rockwell's family, other models he used on numerous occasions, famous artists and even Rockwell himself. It also is an example of the detail Rockwell used in all of his work, Hall said. At the time she modeled for the image Hall had a sprained ankle that was taped beneath her bobby socks. A very close look at the image, Hall said, and the top of the tape can be seen above her sock.
At the time, Hall did not think much of posing for Rockwell because it was a common occurrence for his wife, Mary, to come to school, pick up a child and bring them back to model for a few hours before driving them back to school.
"Looking back, it was a privilege. He was such a humble man and he made you feel so relaxed," she said.
What Hall, and likely most of the other models, looked forward to most about the opportunity to pose for Rockwell was receiving a $5 check when the work was done.
"Now I wish I had saved one of those checks, but as a kid I couldn't wait to spend it," she said chuckling.
Even being immortalized in some very famous pieces of art is not something Hall goes around telling everybody about. In fact, she said, none of the images she posed for are even hanging in her house. "I have a few copies of the Saturday Evening Post from 1948," she said.
Her husband, she said, also has a copy of the Christmas card she posed for, which she had not even seen until 10 to 15 years ago.
"I didn't see it until (the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.,) had an exhibit of all the Hallmark Christmas cards that Norman Rockwell did," she said.
Don Trachte is organizing this weekend's gathering of models, which comes two years after a full-fledged reunion featuring lectures and slide shows brought more than 30 models back Arlington.
"It was quite a great experience to see models that some of us had never met. I'm thinking of Duane Parks who played the model in ‘Homecoming Marine,' and thinking of Mary Doyle who was ‘Rosie the Riviter,'" Trachte said. "I remember when Mary Doyle walked in, she came in a little late, and all of a sudden everyone got up and applauded."
This year's get-together will be scaled back, but Trachte said last week he had heard positive responses from 13 models who will be on hand.
"We don't have a venue to show slides and have talks, but it's a good opportunity to just get people together every year that we can," Trachte said.
Hall was unable to attend the reunion two years ago but has been to model reunions in Stockbridge.
"It's always enjoyable to reminisce and talk about living in Arlington in those days," she said. "Times have changed so very much and it's fun to look back and reminisce on our childhood. We were very privileged because there were many famous artists living in Arlington."
The public is also welcome to participate in the conversations, which Trachte said is part of the fun for the models to be able to tell their stories.
"I think that the whole fun of doing something like this is just the exchange of information and hopefully people will stop in and talk to various models and ask them questions," he said. "The models in Arlington experienced a unique time in this country. They were living part of that generation when the country had been through a long depression, been through a major war, and I think that Rockwell kind of exemplified what the country was all about and I think he did it through his own humor. People were able to laugh at themselves and not take themselves that seriously."
Some art critics, Trachte said, mistakenly believe Rockwell "just painted from pictures," but the models will tell people there was a lot more that went into each piece.
"A lot of critics never gave credit to his genius. The thing that came out at the last model reunion, we had so many photographs that really showed Rockwell staging the picture," Trachte said. "He had this totally in his mind, exactly what he wanted to see. I think that appreciation came out in that last reunion."
Trachte himself modeled for a painting titled "Santa's Visitors," when he was about 6 years old. The image appeared on the cover of Child Life Magazine as well as Hallmark Christmas cards.
Saturday's gathering begins around 11 a.m. at the Norman Rockwell Exhibition on Route 7A, which longtime owner Richie Mears recently sold to Craig Lampani, and then moves to Jonathon's Table for lunch.
Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.