Indiana woman visits her family’s Rockwell painting at the UNL Museum

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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) — The UNL Chancellery arranged a special visit to the Sheldon Art Museum for Peggy Montarsi, a crop insurance adjuster from Indiana. She was in transit to work in Lincoln when she decided to visit a painting by Norman Rockwell.

The painting holds a special place in her heart as it depicts her family’s farm over 75 years ago.

“I don’t think anyone really understood how big it would have been at the time because it was just this guy coming over to take pictures and eat chicken inside the house,” Montarsi said. “And then it becomes an article in magazines across the country.”

In the mid-1970s, the Saturday Evening Post ran an article about a typical county agent. For illustration suggestions, Rockwell contacted Purdue University, who put him in touch with Harold Rippey, the Jay County agent in Indiana. Rippey asked Peggy’s family to model for a reference photo as they were heavily involved in farm life and 4H.

The painting was titled The County Agricultural Agent.

It features Peggy’s grandparents, aunts and her 13-year-old father holding a chicken. The family and a farmhand named Champ watch as the county officer examines a 4H calf. Thirteen farm animals are also included, but some of them were added by Norman Rockwell after the photo was taken. However, Montarsi confirmed that they had border collies.

This is the second time Montarsi has seen the painting in person since it was in Indiana for an exhibition 20 years ago.

She brought a photo of her family sitting in her living room with Norman Rockwell.

“The culture and the people of the family farms are disappearing,” she said with tears in her eyes. “You only do it because you love it. It’s not about making money. It’s a lifestyle. It’s like a part of me right there.”

The County Agricultural Agent originally came to Lincoln after being purchased in 1951 by Nathan Gold, a department store owner. Gold displayed it in the store’s cafeteria before donating it to UNL. The Rockwell piece is an exhibition highlighting the work.

“We noticed that there are some works in the collection that look at agriculture from different perspectives,” said Erin Hana, curator of Academic Engagement. “And the Rockwell painting really seemed perfect. 4H and the County Agricultural Agent are really popular with our visitors, so we wanted to find a way to include them.”

Many Montarsi family members have printed copies of Rockwell’s work, and visitors to the Sheldon Art Museum can also purchase prints. The museum is currently closed for installations, but the painting can be viewed in person when it opens on August 16.

Montarsi hopes that one day her children and grandchildren will be able to see the painting in person.

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