BENTONVILLE : Crystal Bridges museum obtains Rosie
BY TRACIE DUNGAN
Posted on Tuesday, June 9, 2009
of The Saturday Evening Post / Photography
by Dwight Primiano. Crystal
Bridges Museum of American Art announced Monday it had acquired
Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter, a 52-by-40-inch
oil on canvas painting created in 1943.
The planned Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville
has acquired Norman Rockwell's iconic Rosie the Riveter
painting for its permanent collection at an undisclosed
Officials with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American
Art made the announcement Monday, offering few details
other than the fact the museum bought the painting
from a private collector.
Rockwell painted the image of feminine brawn that
symbolizes women's place in the World War II-era
workforce for the May 29, 1943, cover of The Saturday
Sotheby's auctioned the painting to an unnamed buyer
on May 22, 2002, for $4.96 million, according to
its Web site, www.sothebys.com.
At the time, The Associated Press reported that
the anonymous buyer had anted up the highest price
ever paid at public auction for a Rockwell painting.
oil on canvas depicts "Rosie" on
lunch break, her riveting gun on her lap as she uses
a dog-eared copy of Mein Kampf as a foot stool.
Rockwell's Rosie is posed as an homage to Michelangelo's
frescoed depiction of the prophet Isaiah from the
Sistine Chapel ceiling.
"It speaks to people interested in art and history
and popular culture," said Chris Crosman, Crystal
Bridges' chief curator.
Crosman wouldn't name the seller. He also wouldn't
reveal when the museum bought the painting or how
much it paid.
Museum officials have long been secretive about
how much it is costing to construct and stock the
museum, saying it is a gift to the community.
Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton and the Walton Family
Foundation announced plans for the museum in 2005.
Original plans called for it to open in May 2009,
but the opening later was reset to sometime in 2010.
In March, museum officials removed the 2010 opening
date from its Web site, but haven't announced a new
The chief curator of Norman Rockwell Museum, Stephanie
Plunkett, said Monday that her museum didn't have
the resources to buy the painting.
"We would have loved to own Rosie, but unfortunately,
the sale prices for Rockwell at the time it initially
sold at auction were increasing dramatically," Plunkett
said, referring to the 2002 auction. "So that made
it impossible for us to purchase it.
"But it's exciting
to know that another museum has purchased it -
because that makes it possible for the public to
[permanently] enjoy it."
other Norman Rockwell Museum officials called the
Stockbridge, Mass., museum, celebrating its 40th
anniversary, the home of the "largest and
most significant" collection of Rockwell works.
The Rosie painting has been on loan to the Rockwell
museum in the past.
In the early
1990s, the museum exhibited Rosie in its gallery.
Then, between 1999 and 2002, Rosie was part of
the Rockwell museum's traveling "Norman Rockwell:
Pictures for the American People" tour that included
an October 2001 stop at the Guggenheim in New York.
The Rockwell museum officials also noted that Crystal
Bridges is a planned, future stop on a touring exhibition
that is about to get under way.
"American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell" will
arrive in Fort Lauderdale's Museum of Art on Nov.
14, 2009. The tour is scheduled to stop at Crystal
Bridges in March 2013, running through May of that
"I'm sure that will be a perfect marriage," Jeremy
Clowe, the Rockwell museum's communications assistant,
said of Crystal Bridges' Rosie and his museum's traveling
The 2002 Sotheby's
auction, where Rosie went for $4,959,500, "was the last time it was sold publicly
at auction," Plunkett said.
Museums have official ways of finding out who a
buyer is, so that they can make arrangements to get
artworks on loan for special exhibits, Plunkett said.
She added that she did learn who the 2002 buyer
was, but would respect the buyer's privacy. However,
she did confirm that the 2002 buyer was neither Crystal
Bridges museum nor Alice Walton.
"It was definitely a different buyer," Plunkett
There's no way to truly know the current value of
a painting, she said, since it's all based on what
the market will bring. The economic downturn often
has its effects, she said, and though a past history
of purchases can help one estimate a value, all it
takes is one very eager buyer to prove such an estimate
Rockwell's Rosie was not part of a series of oil
paintings, Plunkett and her colleagues said, but
generally his works include a number of preparatory
"He had about a 15-step process," she said. "He
would start with a small thumbnail sketch of his
Rockwell would assemble props for the artwork, take
reference photos, then pose his subjects and objects.
He would then go through an extensive set of sketches.
a Rockwell spokesman, described them as pencil
sketches, then larger "charcoal studies," then
color studies before creating the actual painting.
"Eventually, he would transfer his drawing onto
canvas," Plunkett said.
He juggled many
assignments at once, "and deadlines
were always looming" for the magazine.
Rosie was among the works that Americans particularly
"One thing that is unique about Rosie the Riveter,
is it is truly an American icon: the image of an
American woman working during World War II," Plunkett
"Rockwell was quite an American master, really,
during World War II," she said. "He was painting
images that really gave us a sense of who we were."
Rosie the Riveter Painting Auctioned
Rockwell's painting of Rosie the Riveter was auctioned
by Sotheby's on May 22, 2002 for $4,959,500.
The painting is 52 by 40in. (132.1 by 101.6cm.) and
signed Norman/Rockwell, l.r. oil on canvas. Painted
the United States' entry into World War II in 1941,
millions of American women answered the government's
call to enter the work force and fill traditionally
male jobs left vacant by those who had gone off to
fight. Above all, women's labor was urgently needed
to help fill shortages created by the expanded wartime
economy, especially in the production of military
hardware. These women who wore hard-hats and overalls
and operated heavy machinery represented a radical
departure from the traditional American feminine ideal
of housewife and mother.
1942, a popular song about a patriotic female defense
worker called Rosie the Riveter provided the name
that became synonymous with this new kind of American
for the cover of the May 29, 1943 edition of The Saturday
Evening Post, Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter
gave visual form to this phenomenon and became an
iconic image of American popular culture. Rockwell
portrayed Rosie as a monumental figure clad in overalls
and a work-shirt with the sleeves rolled up to reveal
her powerful, muscular arms. Seated against the backdrop
of a rippling American flag, she is shown pausing
for lunch, with a riveting machine and a tin lunch
box balanced on her substantial lap, her visor and
goggles pushed back on her head and a ham sandwich
clasped in her hand. Despite her massive bulk, sturdy
work clothes and the smudges on her arms and cheeks,
Rosie's painted fingernails, lipstick and the tidy
arrangement of her bright red curls wittily convey
her underlying femininity. Pausing between bites,
she gazes into the distance with a detached air of
supreme self-assurance, while casually crushing a
tattered copy of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf under her
found the model for Rosie in Mary Doyle (now Mary
Keefe), a nineteen year old telephone operator in
Arlington, Vermont. Mrs. Keefe recalls meeting Mary
Rockwell, the artist's wife, when she came in to pay
her telephone bill. Like many other residents of the
small town, Mary eventually became acquainted with
the artist and readily accepted when Rockwell called
and asked her to pose. Mrs. Keefe remembers arriving
at the studio, where Rockwell had assembled her costume,
which originally included a white shirt and saddle
shoes. She sat for several photographs (all of which
were destroyed when Rockwell's studio burned to the
ground during the summer of 1943), but had to return
for a second session with the artist when he decided
he wanted Rosie to be wearing a blue shirt and penny
loafers. Mrs. Keefe saw the final composition for
the first time during a trip to a newsstand in Bennington,
Vermont, where she happened to see a poster advertising
the May 29, 1943 edition of The Saturday Evening Post.
She remembers being rather shocked by Rockwell's transformation
of her slim figure into Rosie's overly muscular physique,
but adds that the artist later called her to apologize
for his exaggerated enlargement of her size.
Post readers quickly observed that Rockwell found
the source for Rosie's monumental dignity and classical
enthronement in Michelangelo's depiction of the prophet
Isaiah from the Sistine Chapel ceiling (figure 4,
Michelangelo Buonarroti, fresco, Sistine Chapel, Vatican
Museums and Galleries, Vatican City, Italy). American
audiences were generally amused and delighted by the
connection, which was first revealed to the public
when the Kansas City Star ran images of Rockwell's
Rosie and Michelangelo's Isaiah side by side. Just
as Isaiah was called by God to convert the wicked
from their sinful ways and trample evildoers under
foot, so Rockwell's Rosie tramples Hitler under her
all-American penny loafer. Righteousness is described
throughout Isaiah's prophecy as God's "strong
right arm," a characterization that must surely
have occurred to the artist as he portrayed Rosie's
a final touch, Rockwell has painted a halo floating
just above the visor pushed back on Rosie's head.
The artist's tongue-in-cheek canonization of Rosie
clearly intended to signify the rightness of her cause,
although as a New Testament phenomenon, sainthood
would not have been available to the Old Testament
prophet, Isaiah. As in many of Rockwell's most memorable
World War II paintings, the playful, slightly irreverent
humor expressed in Rosie the Riveter is combined with
a more serious, patriotic message.
a critical period of the war, Rosie reminded Americans,
in a message that still resonates today, of the need
for all to do their part in the war effort and to
take pride in the work involved. Rockwell's unique
ability in the context of 20th century American art
was his talent as a communicator and by the end of
the Great Depression, the artist had dispensed with
some of the occasionally cloying sweetness of his
earlier work, allowing the force of his images to
come across with a new potency. Judy Larson and Maureen
Hart Hennessey have pointed out that, "Rockwell's
pictures often honored the American spirit. Particularly
during times of crisis, Rockwell created images that
communicated patriotism and unquestioned allegiance
to the United States" (Norman Rockwell: Pictures
for the American People, New York, 1999, p. 53).
the humor apparent in the painting, Rockwell's Rosie
the Riveter is also a testament to the indomitable
strength of the American spirit during one of the
most challenging times in the nation's history. Rosie's
cool self confidence, sheer physical might and unwavering
support of her country parallel the strength, determination
and patriotism of the American people. In the years
since it was painted, Rosie the Riveter has become
an iconic image of American culture and a part of
Rockwell's enduring legacy: Robert Hughes writes,
"...on the history of mass communication--and
on the popular self-image of America--his mark was
deep, and will remain indelible" (Nothing if
Not Critical, New York, 1990, p. 233). Rockwell's
Rosie--as in the case of his famous Four Freedoms
paintings--also played a role in the government's
efforts to raise money for the war.
1943, the Saturday Evening Post donated the painting
to the United States Treasury Department's Second
War Loan Drive. Between 1941 and 1946, the United
States Treasury Department conducted eight War Loan
Drives, which promoted the sale of war or "victory"
Bonds to finance America's contribution to World War
II. The incredibly successful drives were overseen
by the War Finance Committee and were publicized by
advertisements and promotional materials created by
government agencies--such as the posters featuring
the Four Freedoms, which promoted the Second War Loan
Drive--as well as private companies. "Seeking
to stir the conscience of Americans, [the government
advertising campaigns] invoked both their financial
and moral stake in the war. The sale of war bonds
provided a way in which patriotic attitudes and the
spirit of sacrifice could be expressed, and became
the primary way those on the home-front contributed
to the national defense and war effort" (Brief
History of World War II Advertising Campaigns: War
Loans and Bonds, Duke University, Digital Scriptorium).
the Four Freedoms, Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter was
taken on a nationwide tour to promote the sale of
war bonds during the Second War Loan Drive. Mrs. Keefe
remembers her cousin James Martin, Jr. coming home
to Arlington while on leave from the United States
Navy in 1943 and describing his visit to the Fifth
Avenue Merchant's Association, where the traveling
exhibition accompanying the Second War Loan Drive
was on view. The exhibition included several familiar
faces for Mr. Martin; upon entering, he recognized
his father, James [Jim] Martin, Sr., as one of the
models for all four of the Four Freedoms and was amused
to see a monumental version of his cousin Mary being
exhibited as Rosie the Riveter. The tours included
paintings by several artists, including Rockwell's
close friend the illustrator Mead Schaeffer. They
stopped at popular destinations in cities around the
nation, where paintings were sometimes raffled off
as a way of generating excitement and attracting additional
publicity for the War Loan Drives.
to Maureen Hart Hennessey, on the tour for the Second
War Loan Drive, some of Mead Schaeffer's pictures
were raffled off as well as a few of Rockwell's paintings
of Willie Gillis. An article published in the April
15, 1945 edition of The Art Digest reports that after
being donated to the War Loan Drive, Rosie the Riveter
was "won in [a] contest by Mrs. P.R. Eichenberg
of Mt. Lebanon, Pa." (p. 18), which was presumably
a raffle along the same lines. The raffle may have
taken place while the painting was on view at Strawbridge
& Clothier's department store in Philadelphia,
which was the second stop on the tour. The painting
was then acquired by the Chicago Pneumatic Tool Co.
on East 44th Street in New York, where it hung in
the window next to a placard explaining it history.
The article concluded "Further decorating the
window are riveting hammers, identical with the one
on Rosie's knee" (p. 18). Provenance: The Saturday
Evening Post Donated to the United States Treasury
Department's Second War Loan Drive, 1943 Mrs. P.R.
Eichenberg, Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania (won in a
raffle held by the above) Chicago Pneumatic Tool Company,
New York Martha Parrish and James Reinish, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
Stockbridge, Massachusetts, The Norman Rockwell Museum,
Looking Back: Norman Rockwell Paints the 20th Century,
February-June 1990 Atlanta, Georgia, High Museum of
Art; Chicago, Illinois, Chicago Historical Society;
Washington, D.C., The Corcoran Gallery of Art; San
Diego, California, San Diego Museum of Art; Phoenix,
Arizona, Phoenix Art Museum; Stockbridge, Massachusetts,
The Norman Rockwell Museum; New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim
Museum, Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American
People, November 1999-February 2002, illustrated in
color pp. 28, 30 and on the back cover Literature:
The Saturday Evening Post, May 29, 1943, illustrated
on the cover Kansas City Star, June 6, 1943, illustrated
The Art Digest, July 1, 1943, p. 14, illustrated Norman
Rockwell, The Norman Rockwell Album, New York, 1961,
p. 46, illustrated in color Thomas Buechner, Norman
Rockwell: A Sixty Year Retrospective, New York, 1972,
p. 54 Christopher Finch, Norman Rockwell's America,
New York, 1975, illustrated in color p. 206, pl. 262,
p. 293, illustrated in black and white Laurie Norton
Moffatt, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue,
vol. I, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1986, no. C403,
p. 153, illustrated Robin Langley Sommer, Norman Rockwell:
A Classic Treasury, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1993,
illustrated in color p. 23 Penny Colman, Rosie the
Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front in World
War II, New York, 1995, illustrated in color on the
cover Stephen Goode, "Discovering Rockwell,"
Insight, February 7, 2000, p. 13, illustrated in color
on the cover "A Norman Rockwell Moment,"
The Washington Post, Saturday, July 8, 2000, p. C3
Michael Kimmelman, "Flags, Mom and Apple Pie
Through Altered Eyes," The New York Times, November
2, 2001, p. E35, illustrated in color Lara Claridge,
Norman Rockwell, A Life, New York, 2001, pp. 133,
321-22 "Art Guide," The New York Times,
January 25, 2002, p. E41, illustrated
the San Francisco
Chronicle, May 21, 2002:
On Wednesday, not quite 59 years after landing on
newsstands on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post,
"Rosie the Riveter" will be the star of
Sotheby's American paintings sale.
Sotheby's estimates that "Rosie," which
became a symbol of women's contributions to the war
effort, will go for $3 million to $5 million.
The Rockwell biographer Karal Ann Marling once described
Rockwell's figure in overalls and a work shirt as
everybody's saucy sister, with a lace hankie tucked
into a pocket of her dungarees.
The painting made the model for Rosie, Mary Keefe,
something of a footnote in history at the age of 20,
but she considered it just one of those things. "I
never think too much about it, but my children do,"
she said, describing show-and-tell talks by her children
and, more recently, her grandchildren.
She was not the only person in her family who was
in a Rockwell: A cousin of Keefe's appeared in Rockwell's
From the New Hampshire Union Leader, may 22, 2002:
Nashua woman was model for Rockwell classic
By GARY DENNIS
SAT FOR Norman Rockwell - how many people can say
they did that?
For two mornings in 1943, Nashua's Mary Doyle Keefe
sat in the artist's Arlington, Vt., studio and posed
for what would eventually become Rockwell's "Rosie
the Riveter" painting, a classic in pro-American
World War II art. The original will be auctioned at
Sotheby's auction house in Manhattan today.
It's expected to fetch between $3 million and $5 million.
Keefe sighs when she hears it. Rockwell, whose works
graced the covers of the wildly popular Saturday Evening
Post in World War II times, paid her $5 a day for
the two sittings - she'll see no more profit of it.
"But I can say I sat for him," she said.
Keefe, 78, is now a grandmother of 11 and a bit more
timid than the burly, beefy-armed steel worker shown
in the familiar piece. At 19, when Rockwell used her
as a model, she was slight, trim and curvy - not much
like the painting representing women filling construction
jobs left vacant by male soldiers gone off to fight.
Rockwell's work was a shot in the arm for patriotic
American sentiment, yet he worried the work might
be more of a slap in the face for the young, pretty
and slender woman he paid $5 twice to paint.
"He called several weeks before it came out and
said 'I'm sorry, I made you a big woman,' " Keefe
And how. Rosie wears what appears to be a baggy blue
coverall outfit. A tin lunch box sits in her ample
lap as she hoists a sandwich to her already-filled
mouth. The only thing thicker than the baseball bat-wide
riveter leaning on her legs are the sizable biceps
shown beneath her rolled sleeves.
Her loafers crush a copy of Adolf Hitler's work, "Mein
Kampf." You wouldn't want to mess with Rosie.
It's obvious the public enlargement bothered Keefe
at least a little bit.
"Oh, there was lots of kidding and teasing,"
she said, but it was essentially harmless.
Of Rockwell, Keefe said he was a personable and friendly
"Very talkative," she said.
Arlington was the type of community Rockwell often
painted in his scenes. It was small; everyone knew
everyone else. Keefe and her mother worked in the
town's telephone company office and knew of the Rockwell
family - Norman, Mary and their three boys - once
they moved to town from neighboring New York.
"They were part of the community like every other
couple," Keefe said.
Several residents of Arlington were asked by Rockwell
to pose in his studio. He used Green Mountain State
residents for several of his paintings, including
the "Four Freedoms" series and "Rosie
the Riveter," all sanctioned by the U.S. government
at the time to promote war bonds.
Rosie was initially donated to the U.S. Treasury and
then bought by a woman in Pennsylvania. An anonymous
collector paid $2 million for it two years ago.
Arlington's magazine and newspaper shop would put
out advances on the Saturday Evening Post cover art
before it hit the stands. Keefe took a gander at the
advance and admits she was a little surprised at what
She still keeps a letter Rockwell typed to her after
the picture came out. In it, he apologizes again and
again for the "kidding" she must have endured
for the picture. He seems sincerely concerned about
it in the note.
"I know you took a lot of ribbing when I painted
the picture," he wrote in the letter. ".
. . The kidding you took about the picture was all
my fault because I really thought you were the most
beautiful woman I'd ever seen, but then I did have
to make you into a sort of a giant."
Her life didn't change much with the immense popularity
of the work. Sure, it encouraged neat conversations
with friends and family. Her own four children - two
boys and two girls - always had a standby show and
tell school project by just bringing in a picture
book of Norman Rockwell's work.
But her life didn't depart much from what it would
likely have been with no Rosie. She married Robert
Keefe, a shoe company worker, after the war, became
a dental hygienist, raised her four children and made
several homes around Massachusetts and New Hampshire
as the shoe industry saw fit.
Of the titanic price the painting could fetch today,
she doesn't seem to mind her zero percent take. Sotheby's
already flew her and Robert to New York City last
week to promote the auction. That, the memories and
framed pictures of Rosie are enough, she said.
"And hey, I sat for Rockwell," she says