Rolf Armstrong's Favorite Model - "Jewel Flowers"

Rolf Armstrong

Rolf Armstrong - (1889-1960)

  This is the cover page from the personal scrapbook belonging to Jewel Flowers. Jewel was the favorite model of Rolf Armstrong, one of America's premiere pin up artists. In 1939, Armstrong had moved into the Hotel des Artistes on West 67th. Street in Manhattan. He was somewhat depressed at the prospect of being 50 years old, and not knowing which direction his career would take him. Jewel Flowers, then 17, had recently moved to New York at the request of a lonely friend from her hometown. Jewel had recently been crowned Miss Lumberton, North Carolina. In an effort to convince her parents to let her make the move to New York, she enrolled in a business school in Manhattan, which she very much disliked.

  On a Sunday in March of 1940, her friend's husband showed her an ad in the New York Times placed by artist, Rolf Armstrong. He was looking for a model with qualifications to model for him. She had been crowned Miss Lumberton, North Carolina, but did not have any photos of herself. The aspiring model went to a photo booth at a nearby Woolworth's, took a picture of herself and sent it off to the P.O. Box. A week later, she received a reply stating, "Phone me SU-7-6600 some morning (9-10 a.m.) next week for an interview. R. Armstrong.

  On the morning of March 25, she arrived, finding Armstrong alone in the studio. He handed her a black rhumba dress which he had purchased with another model in mind, and asked her to model for him immediately. Armstrong was a demanding artist, constantly barking out orders to smile, look up, look down, tilt her chin, lift her eyebrows, step up, and step down. Being from the South, she was not used to being talked to so impolitely, without even as much as a please or thank you. She was quite intimidated by this artists demands, and was constantly asking Armstrong, "How am I doing?". When the painting was finished, Armstrong had a suggestion for the calendar company committee which titled the paintings. He asked them to title this one, "How Am I Doing?". By the time this calendar was published, World War II had begun, and young soldiers wanted images of "the girl next door" to hang in their barracks. These images became known as pin ups, and "How Am I Doing?" became a huge success. It became Brown and Bigelow's best selling calendar for 1942. So happy were Brown and Bigelow's executives with Jewel and her first modeling job, that they threw a party for Rolf and Jewel. The party was attended by a New York Times writer, and an article appeared in his column. Jewel Flowers had begun her career as one of America's top pin up models. Armstrong continued to paint Ms. Flowers for the next two decades, creating more than sixty works of art using her as the model. Jewel Flowers died on Feb. 6, 2006. As you move the cursor over the image, you will be able to see a more close up view of the items on the page.

  Rolf Armstrong was born in 1889 in Bay City, Michigan and settled in Bayside, New York on the shore of Little Neck Bay, while keeping his studio in Manhattan. His interest in art developed shortly after his family moved to Detroit in 1899. His earlier works are primarily 'macho sketches of boxers, sailors, and cowboys'. Armstrong had previously been a professional boxer and accomplished seaman, and the ruggedly handsome artist was seldom seen without his yachting cap. He continued to sail his entire life and could be found sailing with movie stars such as James Cagney when the Armstrongs were in California.

  Armstrong left Detroit to attend the Art Institute of Chicago. From there, he moved to New York and magazine covers became his primary focus. His first was in 1912 for Judge magazine. He later created artwork for advertisements, calendars, and sheet music. He made contributions to periodicals such as College Humor, Life, and Shrine Magazine. He became noted for his portraits of silent film and motion picture stars as well as pin ups and magazine covers. By 1927, Armstrong was the most popular and best selling calendar artist at Brown and Bigelow. As the 1930's began, Armstrong was working with everyone from the Thomas D. Murphy Company, to RCA. Everyone loved the spirited, colorful and often sporty "Armstrong Girls".

  The wealth he accumulated through these high profile commissions, afforded Armstrong a mansion of his own, in Little Neck Bay, Long Island. There, on the beach and in the sun, he would paint his models. But in 1940, he met Jewel Flowers, his "perfect dream-come-true model. It's interesting to note that in later life, Rolf Armstrong adopted her.

  As WW II began, artists of talent were volunteering and being employed in various patriotic campaigns. In 1949, Armstrong was amongst the very best, when he was asked to attend a War Advertising Conference with Earl Moran and Norman Rockwell. It was during this conference, that a memer of the press asked Armstrong why he insisted on the use of a live model, now that photographs were so often used. Armstrong's response came without pause and Jewel Flowers was smiling at his side: "When I paint, I want the living person in front of me. As I look at her again and again and again while I work, I get a thousand fresh, vivid impressions...all the glow, exhuberance, and spontaneous joy that leaps from a young and happy heart."

  Armstrong moved to Hawaii in 1959 after his retirement from painting years before. He died in February of 1960.

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