Ridgefield notables: Franklin Lischke, artist and model

Franklin Lischke

Franklin Lischke

Contributed photo

Millions of people have seen Franklin Lischke running naked, but he didn’t mind at all. In fact, Lischke was proud of the fact that as a boy, he frequently modeled for Norman Rockwell, the legendary artist of American life in the 20th century.

Rockwell posed young Frank for many of his 321 Saturday Evening Post covers, including the famous scene of three skinny-dipping boys, clothes in hand, running by a “No Swimming” sign as they flee the law. It was painted in 1921.

Lischke was a favorite subject for Rockwell’s paintings. “He always said, ‘The kid can raise his eyebrows. He makes a good model.’”

Lischke was also convenient. Rockwell in the 1920s rented studio space from the Lischke family in New Rochelle, N.Y. The boy was paid the then-princely 50 cents an hour (about $6.80 in 2019) to model.

Lischke modeled for Rockwell from ages 13 to 17 when he became “too old to be a kid model and not good-looking enough to be an Arrow Collar Man,” he said. He also did studio chores.

Rockwell urged him to pursue art, and he did. He became a well-known commercial artist in New York City, specializing in fashion work for stores like Bloomingdale’s, Saks, and Bonwit Teller.

Born in 1908 in New Rochelle, Lische studied at the Art Students’ League under George Bridgeman who’d also taught Rockwell. He lived in Ridgefield from 1946 to 1986, but maintained a studio in New York City.

He often contributed to the community, doing illustrations for Silvio Bedini’s 1958 history, “Ridgefield in Review;” the Bicentennial book, “Heritage ‘76”; and the 1975 history of St. Stephen’s Church, where he served on many parish committees.

He also designed graphics for the Keeler Tavern, Ridgefield Library, Ridgefield Garden Club, and Ridgefield Orchestra.

In 1986, he retired and with his wife, Martha, moved to Litchfield, where he died in 1991 at age 83.

A favorite boyhood story involved addressing his boss. “I remember going to the studio when I was 13 or 14 years old,” he said. “I always called him Mr. Rockwell, and one day he said to me, ‘Frank, you don’t have to call me Mr. Rockwell.’ Well, I couldn’t very well call him Norman, so he said, ‘Call me Bosco.’ I don’t know where that came from.

“One day I bounded into the studio and called out, ‘Hi, Bosco!’ before I saw him sitting on a window seat with a fine gentleman going over sketches. I got a cool reception that time, so I left. Later, he said, ‘It’s all right to call me Bosco, but not in front of the art director of the Saturday Evening Post.’”

— Jack Sanders