Model For Rockwell’s ‘Rosie The Riveter’ Painting Dies In Simsbury At 92
Keefe grew up in Arlington, Vt., where she met Rockwell — who lived in West Arlington — and posed for his painting when she was a 19-year-old telephone operator. The painting was on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on May 29, 1943.
“I was a telephone operator, 19 years old, and we were neighbors. And [Rockwell] often used neighbors for his paintings,” Keefe said in a 2012 interview with The Courant. “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. 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.”
Although Keefe was petite, Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter” had large arms, hands and shoulders. The painting shows the red-haired Rosie in blue jean work overalls sitting down, with a sandwich in her left hand, her right arm atop a lunch box with the name “Rosie” on it, a rivet gun on her lap and her feet resting on a copy of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto, “Mein Kampf.” The entire background is a waving American flag.
“Other than the red hair and my face, Norman Rockwell embellished Rosie’s body,” Keefe said in the 2012 interview. “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 wanted Rosie to show strength and modeled her body on Michelangelo’s Isaiah, which is on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Keefe, who never riveted herself, was paid $5 for each of two mornings she posed for Rockwell and his photographer, Gene Pelham, whose pictures Rockwell used when he painted.