(Host) The people of Arlington have a lot invested in the local Norman Rockwell Exhibition.
Not in the financial sense, necessarily, and not because there are any original Rockwell paintings here – there aren’t.
But the attraction has been a haven of sorts for the original models who inspired Rockwell when he lived in this town.
The recent news that the exhibit was for sale was a reminder of how easily the traces of history can slip away.
VPR’s Susan Keese reports:
(Keese) The Norman Rockwell Exhibition and Gift Shop is on Route 7A, the main road through Arlington.
(Door Bells, and traffic sounds)
(Keese) It’s in an old church, partitioned into rooms full of Rockwell prints, mugs, and memorabilia.
(Hinrichsen) “Well hello! How are you?”
( Man) “Fine.”
(Keese) Joy Hinrichson is the owner. In the winter she runs the place herself. She points out pictures of Rockwell’s former home. It’s an inn now.
Rockwell lived in Arlington from 1939 to 1953.
(Henrichsen) “This little building is where they used to square dance. Norman would walk over early. That way he could stand at the door and take their tickets and he could look everybody over.”
(Keese) In the busy months, from May through October, one of Rockwell’s former models might greet you at the door.
(Coulte ) “My mother says she used to be able to tell by his face that he was looking at somebody he was getting ready to paint. He had a certain look.”
(Keese) Marjorie Coulter’s family lived near the Rockwells in the 1940s.
(Coulter) “We used to play with his boys, so I never really thought of him as famous. I learned to ride a bicycle in his studio, in fact.”
(Keese) Coulter and her brother posed as children getting tucked into bed by their parents in the painting, Freedom from Fear.’
(Jitterbug music plays)
(Keese) A scratchy video talks about the painting, which was part of a series based on four freedoms in a speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
(FDR voice) “The third is freedom from want. The fourth is freedom from fear…”
(Keese) The exhibit’s owner hopes to find a buyer who will pour some much-needed cash into the gallery. The old church needs repairs.
But the exhibit still sees about 15,000 visitors annually.
(Corbett) “I mean you get people from California, Germany, France. They come from all over. They talk with you. They shake your hand. They get their picture taken with you. They enjoy it up there.”
(Keese) Butch Corbett was a star quarterback at Bennington High when he posed for The Toss, Rockwell’s famous football cover. He works at the exhibit a couple of afternoons a week.
Pauline Grimes, who’s in her fifties, helps out too. Hers was one of the few African-American households in the area. Rockwell sent for her and her whole family in a taxi.
Grimes thinks people now are hungrier than ever for the sense of safety and togetherness Rockwell’s work embodies.
(Grimes) “They want every little thing that we can remember. I think they can touch Rockwell by knowing me, you know.”
(Keese) She says it would be too bad for the exhibit to disband, even though there is a much bigger Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
That’s where Rockwell spent his final years, and where many of his original canvases are. The museum also has an archive of oral histories from former Rockwell models.
What Arlington has would be much less accessible without the exhibit to bring it all together.
Hinrichsen and the models often direct visitors to Chauncey’s restaurant down the road, where 72-year-old Lucille Holton still waits tables.
(Holton) “There you go, enjoy.”
(Keese) Holton was the frantic teenage baby-sitter in a 1947 Post cover. The restaurant, owned by her son, is decorated with Rockwell items.
(Girls at table) “Who is it? It’s her.”
(Girls) “She posed for that?” “No way, it’s so cool.”
(Keese) Holton says Hinrichsen and her little gallery have been good for the town.
Before it opened in the early eighties there was little to show that Rockwell had ever set foot in Arlington, much less painted 87 Post covers using the town and its people as inspiration.
(Holton) “I hope someone gets it that will enjoy it and will do as well as she has with it. Cause Mr. Rockwell was one of our people. He’s one of us. It would be a shame to see it go.”
(Keese) Hinrichsen says she’s already turned down two offers from people who didn’t plan to keep the business going.
She says this place needs to be here.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.