Subject of famed artwork recalls posing for Norman Rockwell


The Telegram & Gazette

Published: 12-14-2018 12:20 AM

GRAFTON (AP) — Eight-year-old Eddie Locke was a third-grader at the Plain School in Stockbridge in 1958 when the famed artist Norman Rockwell, accompanied by the principal, walked into the lunchroom one day and pointed at him. “That one,” the artist said.

Seeing the principal heading toward him, Mr. Locke recalled 60 years later, he wondered: “What have I done wrong?”

Young Eddie was sent home to put on a good shirt and go to the Howard Johnson’s in Pittsfield, where for an hour he posed at the lunch counter with Massachusetts State Trooper Richard Clemens for “The Runaway,” a Saturday Evening Post cover that would become a Rockwell favorite, a painting still beloved more than a half century later.

And then he went back to school. “It wasn’t all that unusual to pose for Mr. Rockwell,” Mr. Locke, now 68, of Great Barrington recalled Sunday.

Rockwell (1894-1978), who lived in Stockbridge, frequently called on his friends and neighbors in the small Berkshire County town to act as his models for his covers and display ads in national magazines in the 1950s and ‘60s.

“Everyone referred to him as Mr. Rockwell,” said Thomas Daly, curator of education for the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. “It was not unusual that the kid you played catch with was in an ad for Mass Mutual Insurance or Corn Flakes.”

Mr. Locke and Mr. Daly were in Grafton earlier this month for an appearance at the Massachusetts State Police Museum, where a copy of “The Runaway” hangs on the wall, and where visitors can sit on a stool at a replica of the diner counter and recreate the scene for photographs.

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The picture is one of the Rockwell classics: A little boy sits on a stool at a lunch counter, his kerchief-wrapped bundle on a stick at his feet, as a state policeman at the next stool intently listens to the child’s tale, as does the lunch-counter clerk, the beginning of a grin on his face.

“It was a wonderful expression of what (police officers) do,” Mr. Locke said. “They’re there to help you. You look at that picture and you know nothing bad was going to happen to that kid.”

Trooper Clemens, who was 30 and was stationed in the Lee barracks when he posed for the image, was reunited with Mr. Locke for the picture’s 50th anniversary in 2008. Six years ago, when Trooper Clemens died at age 84, the state police said on Twitter: “Rockwell’s painting sums up this truth: An officer is never so tall as when he stoops to help a child.”

The Saturday Evening Post was one of America’s most popular magazines in the 1950s, with a circulation of about 4 million when “The Runaway” appeared on the cover in September 1958, according to Mr. Daly.

Yet he didn’t hear a lot about that Rockwell cover at the time, Mr. Locke said. It was the other one he did that got him teased. In “Before the Shot,” which ran on the Saturday Evening Post cover on March 15, 1958, he was the boy in the doctor’s office pulling down his britches, mooning a nationwide reading audience. As a Little League pitcher, he recalled, he dealt with kids who gave him the business by pitching them up and in, and the teasing stopped.

Now, 60 years later, “The Runaway” is found on prints, puzzles, neckties, playing cards, and coffee mugs - “I’m on a Pez dispenser,” Mr. Locke said — and remains a particular sentimental favorite for Rockwell fans among the Massachusetts State Police. Stephen Byron, president of the board of directors of the State Police Museum, was asked what it meant to have the kid in the picture visit the museum Sunday. “It means everything,” Mr. Byron said.