n First Signs of Spring
, Norman Rockwell's studio assistant Gene Pelham stands in as a gardener who enthusiastically encounters crocuses blooming under a stormy sky — a sure sign that spring is on its way. Eugene Thomas Pelham Jr. was born in New York City on October 16, 1909, and as a child, he modelled for Rockwell, which inspired his decision to study at the Grand Central School of Art and the National Academy of Design. In 1939, Pelham moved from New York to West Arlington, Vermont, where Rockwell and several other well-known Post
illustrators also resided. 1939-1953, Rockwell lived in Arlington from 1939 to 1953, and hired Pelham to be his studio photographer and assistant. Pelham's tasks included building props and preparing canvases as well as being a model for several important Rockwell paintings himself. Pelham also had a distinguished artistic career, creating covers for the Post and other publications, and landscapes of the rural countryside.
View reference photos and other Rockwell paintings that Gene Pelham modeled for in the slideshow below.
About First Signs of Spring
Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post covers were generally executed months in advance of their publication dates. For the crocuses in First Signs of Spring, the artist wanted real flowers for his models, but since work on the illustration was completed in winter's coldest months, finding live crocuses proved to be a difficult undertaking. Numerous calls were placed to New England greenhouses, but no local florist stocked crocuses in winter. Rockwell eventually procured a New York City shopkeeper who specialized in out-of-season flowers, and the blooms were delivered to his Vermont home for a fee of fifteen dollars and fifty cents.