Jim Edgerton Jr.: Our neighbor, Norman
SHELBURNE, VT. -- I modeled for Norman Rockwell in 1964 for a scout calendar that was released in 1966 called, "Growth of a Leader." This made the Edgerton family a four generation modeling family. According to the Rockwell Museum the only other four generation modeling family is the Rockwells.
My great grandmother, Elva, both of my grandparents, Jim and Clara, all three of my aunts, Edith, Joy and Ardis, and my father (James "Buddy" Edgerton) have been painted by Norman. My father can claim that he was the first model to be used in Norman's new studio in West Arlington, Vt. ("I will do my best"), and the last when he modeled for the "United Nations" in 1953.
I mention this because the Edgertons lived only 50 feet from Norman Rockwell's home for 10 years. My grandparents and their family became extremely close friends with Norman and Mary and their three sons. Living in such close proximity, and sharing the Edgerton driveway, made for friendly living. My grandparents ran a dairy farm with 212 acres and Norman was a famous illustrator, yet they developed a relationship that endured until Norman's death in 1978. Norman once said, "When I finally moved away from Arlington the thing I regretted most was leaving Jim and Clara."
In 2009, my father and Nan O'Brien wrote a biography called, "The Unknown Rockwell: A Portrait of Two American Families." This book chronicles my father's life growing up in rural West Arlington during the Depression and war years. Being a close neighbor of the Rockwells, Norman frequently used Edgerton models for his work. This book was supported 100 percent by the Rockwell Family Agency.
My father Buddy and his sisters, Ardis and Joy, completely refute the sexual allegations made by Deborah Solomon in "American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell." If my grandparents and Edith were still alive they would say the same. As a close neighbor they would know. My father worked and modeled for Norman, and Ardis and Joy worked for Mary, and also modeled for Norman. The claim that he was a pedophile or had homosexual tendencies is baseless. My father, and his sisters, never once noticed any behavior by Norman that were in this direction. Never.
"American Mirror" also contains numerous errors or omissions. The author claims that my grandmother had long, flowing blonde hair. Clara Edgerton actually had long, flowing red hair. Solomon claims that the carpenter on the roof in "Soldier Homecoming" is African-American. John Cross is actually white and I have the modeling photo to prove it. She claims that Jon Stroffolino, who was killed in a hunting accident, was my father's nephew. In fact, Jon was my father's first cousin.
She claims that once Norman and his family left West Arlington that he never stayed in touch with his old friends. This is not true since my grandparents visited Norman on an average of twice per year up until his death in 1978. These are just a few of the many errors (nearly 100) that are in her book.
And to make a sexual connection to the doll masturbating in "Girl in the Mirror" seems ridiculous to me. In the "Freedom of Speech" she writes, "But the speaker is not wearing a ring. He is unattached and sexually available, unbuttoned and unzipped." Absurd! In the painting, you cannot see the complete left hand (ring finger) of Carl Hess, and even if you could, he probably would not be wearing a ring. He was a mechanic and likely would not wear a ring around motorized equipment.
The connection to pedophilia in the painting "Before the Shot" with the boy preparing for an injection in the buttocks at the doctor's office is beyond belief. She also makes a connection to homosexuality when Norman said Fred Hildebrandt "looked fetching in his long flannels."
What is missing in her book is the context of sleeping in the same bed with another man at a fishing camp. As most hunters and fishermen know, sleeping quarters at these types of remote camps can be close and personal. In fact, two fishing guides were sleeping in the top bunk above Norman and Fred. To make any sexual connection is a long stretch. As Garrison Keillor said in his New York Times column, "Oh come on!"
While we respect Deborah's "freedom of speech" on this matter, the Edgerton family is speaking out to ensure that the assertions written by Deborah Solomon relating to pedophilia and latent homosexuality about Norman Rockwell does not become fact. Failure to challenge these assertions would be simply wrong. It is important that the truth be told.
Jim Edgerton Jr.'s family lived next door to Norman Rockwell and his studio in West Arlington, Vt., for more than a decade. A feature film based on Rockwell's life is moving toward production (Eagle, Jan. 2).
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