Rockwell models gathering
ARLINGTON — Every other year since 2010, men and women who modeled for former Arlington resident Norman Rockwell's illustrations and paintings have been gathering to share their experiences as the famed artist's subjects with each other and the public.
But this year's reunion, on Saturday at Arlington Memorial High School's Mack Performing Arts Center, will take on special significance. It will kick off the inaugural 4 Freedoms Festival, a celebration of Rockwell's art and his place in American history, and mark the 75th anniversary of the Four Freedoms paintings, which proved important to the U.S. war effort at a time when victory was hardly assured.
A presentation by local art historian Don Trachte, Jr. is scheduled to take place from 11 a.m. through 12:30 p.m. In keeping with tradition, The Arlington Lions Club will again prepare a fundraising barbecue luncheon at the high school immediately following the models reunion presentation from 12:30-2 p.m. The event is open to the public, but seating is limited.
About 30 of the nearly 70 living Rockwell models are expected to attend.
Trachte and fellow Rockwell model Buddy Edgerton, now of South Burlington, organized a models' reunion in 2010. It has taken place every two years ever since.
Edgerton, who lived next door to the Rockwells as a boy in West Arlington, was a frequent painting subject.
"I was born and brought up in house right there on the West Arlington green," Edgerton told the Journal. "Norman moved next door to us in 1943. We were close neighbors for over 10 years, and we got to know the Rockwells on a close basis. He had three boys all younger than I am, and we kind of grew up together."
For Edgerton, the reunions are a chance to reconnect with his hometown as well as a living history lesson.
"I get to meet old friends and neighbors and their family members,' he said. "And it's kind of fun to reminisce about the importance of Norman Rockwell's work. I just enjoy keeping his legacy upfront."
The gathering is not limited to those who made it onto a calendar, or the cover of a magazine. "To us [a model is] anyone who modeled or posed," Trachte said. "Not everyone made the hit parade but we're including them."
As Trachte explains, it was Arlington that helped inspire that series of paintings in the first place.
Arlington's school had burned, and an emergency town meeting had been called to discuss building a new school (now Arlington Memorial High School). When a local farmer rose during debate to deliver an opinion with which many disagreed, he was allowed to have his say — and Rockwell, recognizing a theme from the "Four Freedoms" outlined by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a speech to Congress, had his inspiration.
While the Four Freedoms are the focus of this year's reunion, according to Edgerton only two of the 31 people who posed for those four paintings are alive — Marjorie Squires Coulter and David Squires, the sleeping children in "Freedom from Fear."
Coulter is expected to attend, as are Donald Fisher ("Breaking Home Ties"), Mary Whalen Leonard ("A Day in the Life of a Girl," "Girl in the Mirror," "School Fight"), and siblings Paul Adams and Pauline Adams Grimes ("The Golden Rule").
Also anticipated to attend are the adult children of Rockwell's illustrator colleagues; daughter of Mead Schaeffer, Lee Schaeffer-Goodfellow ("Hat Check Girl," "The Flirts"), and daughter of Gene Pelham, Melinda Pelham Murphy ("The Babysitter," "Santa's Visitors").
For those wanting more, at the same time an exhibit titled "Norman Rockwell and the Arlington Artists" will debut across from the high school at Martha Canfield Library. Arlington artists such as Schaeffer, Pelham, John Atherton and George Hughes are featured in the exhibit.
Another session with Rockwell models as special guests is scheduled for Wednesday, July 18 at 7 p.m. at the Manchester Community Library. Trachte will facilitate that this session as well.
All are part of the 4 Freedoms Festival, a celebration of Rockwell and the iconic paintings he completed while an Arlington resident being presented by The Mill and Josh Sherman. That event is headlined by the premiere of "Perfect Picture," a musical based on Rockwell's life directed and choreographed by four-time Tony Award Nominee Randy Skinner and will starring Tony and Emmy Award winner Lillias White. The show will be presented at both 3 p.m and 7:30 p.m. on July 20 and July 21, with tickets available through The Mill's website.
For a full schedule of events, see https://www.themillvt.com/4freedomsfestival/
Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802-490-6000.
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