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Subjects of Rockwell Pictures Live On in Vermont

October 05, 1986|B. J. ROCHE | Roche is a Charlemont, Mass., free-lance writer

ARLINGTON, Vt. — Rose Hoyt, 77, stood at the counter in the Arlington Gallery's Norman Rockwell Exhibition and Gift Shop, pointing out her likeness painted 35 years ago in Rockwell's "Freedom of Speech" illustration.

"There I am," she said, pointing to a pair of eyes gazing through the crowd at a man speaking at a town meeting. "And there's Jim Martin, Carl Hess and Robert Benedict. They're all neighbors."

Rockwell lived with his wife and two sons in this quiet farming community north of Bennington between 1939 and 1953. He did most of his rural pieces here, including many Saturday Evening Post covers, using about 200 residents as models and local buildings as settings.

The Arlington Gallery features 12 of his former models, each of whom works in the gallery at different times, telling the history of the works displayed and reminiscing about life in the days when Rockwell lived here.

Still the Same

"Many of the people and buildings he painted are still here," said Henry Hinrichsen, owner of the gallery, which celebrated its third anniversary in April. "When Rockwell moved to Stockbridge (Mass.) his subjects changed. He did more current events-type paintings, politicians, celebrities."

Hinrichsen said that while Rockwell's better-known home of Stockbridge is a "beautiful town," it is tourist-oriented, and has undergone changes since Rockwell painted it.

But Arlington remains much the way it was when Rockwell lived here, a rural farming community with rolling hills, back-country roads and families that have been here for generations. It was that rural beauty and the country way of life that drew Rockwell here and that allowed him to become part of the community.

"He could have set himself apart," said Mary Immen-Hall, whose father sold Rockwell his home in Arlington, and who herself was a model for the artist. "But he really became one of the people here. His boys went to the public school instead of boarding school, and he'd take the tickets at the grange dances in the summer. There would be Norman Rockwell sweeping the floor after the dance, and nobody would know the difference."

Immen-Hall was 6 years old when Rockwell first called her mother to ask if she could model for him.

Too Many Curls

"My mother got my hair curled and got me all dressed up in a party dress to go down and see him," she recalled, "and when we got there, he said, 'Oh no, that won't do.' "

He took me into the bathroom to wet down my hair to straighten it out, which was fine with me. It turned out that I was supposed to be a flood victim for a Boy Scout calendar he was doing.

"People always tried to look their best when they went to model for him, and he must have had a lot of fun getting people to look like he wanted them to."

The Rockwell Exhibit is housed in a 19th-Century former Catholic church, and includes five rooms filled with more than 1,000 pieces of Rockwell's work. The exhibit includes his earliest covers from Leslie's Illustrated Weekly Newspaper and American Boy magazine, his Saturday Evening Post covers, illustrations for Look magazine, promotional illustrations from calendars, and a promotional poster of a Jerry Lewis movie, "Cinderfella."

The gallery also features a 20-minute film, the Academy Award-winning "Norman Rockwell's World."

Actual-Size Displays

Art purists might criticize the exhibit because it has no original works by the artist, but Hinrichsen defends his collection, saying that the works are presented in the form in which Rockwell intended them to be seen.

"We specialize in presenting the works in the actual size so we can show a lot more," he said. "You can get a good perspective of his work over the years."

The works are grouped by time periods so the visitor can trace the evolution of Rockwell's art and, indeed, a nation's view of itself.

The whimsical, often humorous Saturday Evening Post covers dominated by dogs, children, soldiers, traveling salesmen and pretty girls give way in the early '60s to the eloquent Look magazine illustrations depicting the space program, race relations and the New Frontier vision of John F. Kennedy.

But the real charm of a visit to the exhibit is a chat with the models, in particular Rose Hoyt, who now has her own autographing table at the gallery.

She was one of Rockwell's most popular models, appearing in "The Four Freedoms" and "Did You Know a Better Man," among other illustrations. She's older now, but just as pretty as she was then, with clear eyes and strong features.

Careful Planning

"It was all very exciting," she said. "One night in 1942--we didn't even have electricity yet--he just stopped by the house and asked me if I'd be willing to pose.

"He'd always be very particular about what he wanted, and he'd explain everything. He'd spend about a half-hour taking photographs, and then he'd later paint from those.

"He used to paint his backgrounds first, and he'd leave a space in them for the people, and when he'd get them right, he'd put them in."

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