The police officer who posed for an iconic Norman Rockwell painting visits the Delaware State Police Musuem.
After Lt. Jason Sapp tried to recreate “The Runaway” in a waffle shop, he decided to share his photo with the officer who posed for the Norman Rockwell painting.
“He wrote back and said it was a pretty good recreation but asked where the notebook was in my back pocket,” Sapp said with a laugh.
At Sapp’s request, Richard Clemens came to Dover on Sept. 10 to attend a picnic with 800 police officers from across the country and paid a visit the Delaware State Police Museum the next day.
During his visit to the museum, Clemens said he felt flattered to be asked to pose for the American artist whose work appeared on the covers of the Saturday Post.
“I lived three doors down the street from Rockwell, and his dog used to wander in my yard, and then he would chat with me, and that’s how he knew I was a police officer,” said Clemens, now in his 80s.
One day, Rockwell called Clemens and asked if he would be willing to pose for a painting. After getting approval from his bosses, Clemens sat on a bar stool at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant in Pittsfield, Mass., with a young boy named Eddie Locke.
“It was very easy,” Clemons said. “He had a photographer take our picture all kinds of different ways, arms up, arms down, you name it.”
On Sept. 20, 1958, “The Runaway” appeared on the front cover of the Saturday Post, and Clemens said Rockwell had chosen to use a different waiter than the one that originally posed for the painting.
“The waiter was a young guy, in his 20s,” said Clemens, noting Rockwell had made the switch to emphasize the age difference between the young boy and the other men in the painting.
Rockwell also depicted the floor, barstools and counter from Howard Johnson’s in the painting but changed the background behind the counter to give the picture a more rural setting.
“He had the ability to paint things not the way they were, but the way people wanted them to be,” Clemens said.
Clemens, who worked as a Massachusetts state trooper from 1953 to 1975, currently lives in Clifton Park, N.Y., and worked for General Electric for 20 years after he retired from the police force.
Even in retirement, he continues to sign prints for state troopers across the country and attend police fundraisers and conferences as far away as Miami.
The painting is popular, Clemens said, because it depicts a calmer way of life and one of the positive sides to being a police officer.
“It shows that, yes, we do help people,” Clemens said. “There are plenty of stressful situations that we’re involved in, but there are happy situations too.”
Sapp said the painting is recognized by most police officers and noted the officers got very excited when he introduced Clemens at the picnic.
“It was a tremendous roar,” Sapp said. “He’s said several times to me, ‘You’re treating me like a rock star.’”
Officer Tony Aleria, who flew from southern California to attend the picnic, said he knew at age 6 that he wanted to be a police officer and had been familiar with the painting from a young age.
“In our profession, this man is a legend,” Aleria said. “All the guys were acting like kids when they saw him. A lot of them knew he was right away.”
During his visit, Clemons signed a print of “The Runaway’” that will either hang in the museum or in the Delaware State Police headquarters along Route 13.
Email staff writer Elain Hughes at email@example.com.