Model for Norman Rockwell’s ‘Rosie the Riveter’ Dies at 92Posted: April 22, 2015
Elahe Izadi writes: You know Mary Doyle Keefe, but maybe not by that name. In 1943, the then-19-year-old telephone operator had been called upon to provide a unique kind of service during the war effort: Become the face of dedicated patriotism from the home front.
“I didn’t think much about it, and I didn’t really see myself as some epitome of the modern woman. There was a war on, and you did what you could. And in a small town like Arlington, it was simply a matter of we knew he was a painter and asked a lot of people to come down to pose for his pictures.”
Norman Rockwell painted Keefe as “Rosie the Riveter,” an image that graced an iconic Saturday Evening Post cover and “became a symbol for millions of American women who went to work during World War II,” according to the Norman Rockwell Museum.
“I didn’t really make anything of it and didn’t really see it or realize what would happen to that picture until it came out.”
Keefe, 92, died in Connecticut this week after a brief illness, her family told the Associated Press on Wednesday.
How Keefe’s likeness came to be immortalized — and turned into a symbol of female independence — happened rather serendipitously. Rockwell and Keefe were neighbors in Arlington, Vt., and he often asked folks in the community to pose for his work.
“He liked to paint from photos, so his photographer took pictures of me, just posing me different ways and telling me to look this way or that.”
During a 2012 interview with the Hartford Courant, Keefe recalled how she returned for a second photo session because Rockwell asked her to model in a blue shirt and loafers. She was paid a total of $10.
“I don’t remember the photographer telling me to have any kind of attitude on my face, but I’m 90 and don’t remember.”
“He liked to paint from photos, so his photographer took pictures of me, just posing me different ways and telling me to look this way or that,” Keefe said. “I don’t remember the photographer telling me to have any kind of attitude on my face, but I’m 90 and don’t remember.”
The resulting image — of “Rosie” with a rivet gun on her lap, sandwich in hand and “Mein Kempf” beneath her feet — didn’t quite resemble the 19-year-old. Keefe, who told the Courant she had never even seen a rivet gun before, was petite, contrasting with Rosie’s large biceps, broad shoulders and large hands.
“Other than the red hair and my face, Norman Rockwell embellished Rosie’s body,” Keefe told the Courtant. “I was much smaller than that and did not know how he was going to make me look like that until I saw the finished painting.”
Rockwell sent Keefe a letter 24 years after completing the painting, apologizing for bulking her in size “and calling her the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen,” the AP reported. “I did have to make you into a sort of a giant,” he wrote.
Keefe got teased a fair bit for the image, which Rockwell said was inspired by the way Michelangeo painted Isaiah in the Sistine Chapel. But, she told the Courtant in 2002: “It didn’t bother me. I was slim and trim. Just the idea of being able to sit for Norman Rockwell was a nice thing to do.”
A popular song, “Rosie the Riveter,” predated the painting, as did J. Howard Miller’s motivational “We can do it!” poster. But the Rockwell work, which includes a lunch pail emblazoned with the name “Rosie,” received wide distribution via the Saturday Evening Post….(read more)
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