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St. Petersburg woman one of Rockwell's cover girls

Aline Chamberlain, at 13, was among 500 girls photographed by Norman Rockwell in consideration of this 1943 Saturday Evening Post cover.

LARA CERRI | Times

Aline Chamberlain, at 13, was among 500 girls photographed by Norman Rockwell in consideration of this 1943 Saturday Evening Post cover.

ST. PETERSBURG

Aline Chamberlain seems to be a typical neighbor.

She lives in a quaint home with Frank, her husband of 60 years. They go bowling every Monday and Thursday. She likes to read, play the organ and occasionally practices her needlework.

Her "normal" life includes a brush with greatness years earlier when Chamberlain was photographed, painted and chosen for the 1943 Thanksgiving cover of the Saturday Evening Post by Norman Rockwell.

Years ago, a 13-year-old Aline Ponton stepped out onto her front porch in Rutland, Vt. She was fresh out of the shower, her dark hair wet, long and straight down her back.

Her mother sent her out to call her brothers and sisters to sit down for lunch. Aline, one of 12 children, watched her siblings run in the house to eat together.

Just as she was about to step inside, she saw a stranger approaching, almost inspecting her.

"Stand still," the man said. He asked her to turn, as if to see her profile.

The young girl called to her mother.

"I was petrified," she said. Her mother came out and asked who this man was and what he wanted.

Removing his pipe from his mouth, he introduced himself as Norman Rockwell. He wanted to take Aline to Arlington, Vt., to photograph her as a possible subject for a cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

Neither Aline nor her mother knew who Rockwell was, but he promised that their neighbor, a girl Aline's age, was going to be photographed as well and that the girl's older sister would be chaperoning. Her mother gave her permission.

The three girls traveled by bus to Arlington — an hourlong ride from their hometown.

Chamberlain's neighbor was photographed first. Throughout the studio, pictures of girls in the same costume and position were hung. Rockwell had photographed more than 500 girls before choosing the final portrait.

Once seated, Rockwell wrapped rags around Chamberlain's legs and feet and then put an official military issue coat over her shoulders, covering the chair.

"I remember when he put the jacket on me, it dragged me down," she recalled, "I was a small girl."

Chamberlain remembers Rockwell being a kind, gentle man. He always gave his models $5 or $10 for posing.

"I remember going home on the bus, holding the money. Ten dollars was a big deal to me, being one of 12," Chamberlain said. Ten dollars is all Chamberlain thought would result from this. Rockwell was looking for an Italian subject; she was French.

Her neighbor went around school bragging that she was going to be on the cover. Then on Nov. 27, 1943, the delivery boy ran to her house to show her the cover.

There she was, the Saturday Evening Post's cover girl for the "Refugee Thanksgiving" portrait.

"Refugee Thanksgiving" is defined in many Norman Rockwell compilation books as depicting "fallen pillars of tyranny, broken chains of bondage, grace of a thanksgiving dinner."

The cover came just two months after the initial Allied advancement into Italy, and showed what was supposed to represent the Italian front, with a young Italian girl praying, thanking God for the food and help from Allied forces.

The magazine was framed and hung in the halls of Chamberlain's high school, St. Joseph's Academy. She said many of her peers came to her to get an autograph. "I was so shy," she said.

The experience was one she said she'll always remember. Every day she sees the large framed cover of the Nov. 27, 1943, issue of the Saturday Evening Post hanging above her organ.

Emily Rieman can be contacted at (727) 893-8215 or at erieman@sptimes.com.

St. Petersburg woman one of Rockwell's cover girls 08/12/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 4:23pm]
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