The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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March 28, 2013

VIDEO: ‘American Chronicles’ exhibit features Rockwell

BENTONVILLE, Ark. — The middle school children sat quietly in front of the painting.

“What do you notice about this painting?” asked Lori Lincks, an art educator with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

A student asked: “Is that a halo?”

Lincks explained to the students from Poteau, Okla., that Norman Rockwell’s iconic image of “Rosie the Riveter” was inspired by an image of the prophet Isaiah painted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo in 1509.

Rockwell had posed his model, a 19-year-old Vermont woman who was a telephone operator near where he lived, to match the image. And like Isaiah, she would be given a halo.

“Rockwell understood his place in popular culture of the time,” said Kevin Murphy, Crystal Bridges curator of American art. “He understood that he had been adopted as an interpreter of the American dream, and he wanted his work to engage in the larger tradition of Western art, so he would put in references to great works of art through history.

“Sometimes they’re obvious; sometimes they’re not. It was a way for him to connect with great art of the past.”

When the image appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on Memorial Day, May 29, 1943, it was quickly recognized by readers to be “Rosie the Riveter” from a popular song at the time about American women who had taken jobs in manufacturing to help the nation win World War II.

The painting that would become the illustration for the magazine’s cover depicts a woman with muscular arms taking her lunch break with a rivet gun on her lap. She wears a blue work shirt and coveralls, but her fingernails are painted. A compact sticks out from a pocket. Beneath her worn penny loafer is a copy of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto, “Mein Kampf.”

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