Escape Artist

Rockwell was a great talent spotter, but he couldn’t get one young painter to sit still for a portrait.

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What budding artist hasn’t felt the terror of exposing his or her work to the world at large? This painting depicts a young artist, canvas in hand, fleeing a rural rainstorm. But as is often the case with a Norman Rockwell painting, there’s a story behind the canvas.

As it happens, Rockwell was vacationing in the hamlet of Louisville Landing, New York. While out for a stroll, he noticed his neighbor’s granddaughter Elizabeth painting a landscape of the surrounding farm. Rockwell walked over to take a look, but when Elizabeth saw him coming she recognized the famous illustrator in his trademark white bellbottom pants and holding his signature pipe. The chance encounter with celebrity was too much for the young woman, who fled in embarrassment rather than have her labors exposed—and possibly critiqued. She picked up her artwork and supplies and “high-tailed it out of there,” as she would say years later.

Rockwell was sorry about frightening her, but a conversation with her father about his shy, artistically inclined daughter cleared the air. The conversation also afforded Rockwell an opportunity to ask permission to paint Elizabeth for a Post cover.

Although bashful, Elizabeth knew how impressed her friends would be seeing her on the cover of the most popular magazine in the country. So, overcoming her hesitation, she agreed to meet with Rockwell.

The next day Elizabeth stood nervously in front of Rockwell’s cottage. Suddenly he opened the door, startling the faint-hearted girl who once again turned and bolted from his front yard. The painting of the painter was not to be!

Disappointed, Rockwell never forgot about the touching scene. Ten years later in southern California his vision finally came to fruition when he painted his new fiancée’s neighbor and cousin, Rosemary, as the shy artist from Louisville Landing running with a painting of her grandfather’s field.

This story is dedicated to Elizabeth, the original inspiration for “Wet Paint,” the cover shown here. She very graciously shared her memories of Rockwell with me a couple of decades ago. Elizabeth passed away in July of 2010 at the age of 101.

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  1. I had NO idea such real life drama accompanied this Rockwell. Wow. To think the original girl bolted on him TWICE is kind of mind boggling, but not too much apparently.

    A great cover did result 10 years later, so it was all good—and obviously meant to be!


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