Published Wednesday, Aug. 5, 1998
Model recalls Rockwell's visit
By Michael Roknick
Herald Business Editor
All of his life, George Petropulos was known as a volunteer.
He volunteered for the Army. During World War II he volunteered for combat duty in Europe where he fought at Omaha Beach on D-Day and later at Luzon in the Pacific Theater.
But the Hermitage resident is best known for a role into which he was drafted. He was among the 14 former Sharon Steel Corp. workers chosen to appear in Norman Rockwell paintings.
In 1966, Sharon Steel commissioned Rockwell to create the paintings of various departments at its Farrell mill.
At the time, Petropulos was a metallurgist at the plant.
"They handpicked most of the guys and they had picked someone else instead of me," he recalled this week. "But Mrs. Rockwell said I would make a better subject, so I was chosen.Ó
Molly Rockwell photographed steelworkers for her husband to refer to later when he put the images onto canvas. "She was a little bird of a woman Ñ skinny, 5 foot 2 inches tall," Petropulos said.
He remembers the famed illustrator as being quiet and reserved.
Sharon Steel was forced to sell 13 of the paintings Ñ one was missing Ñ in 1995 during its second bankruptcy. The new owner, Golmar Steel Co., a flat-roll steel service center in Ecorse, Mich., is selling 10 of the paintings. The other three have been sold to private collectors.
Petropulos hopes someone locally will buy one of the paintings, which can range from $95,000 to $1500,000.
"But I just don't think that's going to happen," he said.
In many ways the 75-year-old Petropulos embodies the American spirit that Rockwell was famed for capturing in his illustrations and paintings.
A member of the Army's 28th Division, he was part of a 12-man crew who spotted naval gunfire on the Normandy, France, beaches on D-Day.
After the Allies took the fight deeper into France, naval gunfire was no longer effective. It was at that time the Army asked for volunteers for another European invasion site and Petropulos was up to the task.
Although he was transferred back to England for reassignment, that invasion never took place. So he was sent home, where he married his wife, Virginia. Later, he was shipped to the Pacific where he fought in January 1945 with the 6th Infantry Division in the invasion of Luzon, part of the Philippines. Once again he was given the assignment of directing naval gunfire. In April 1945 he took part in a smaller invasion at Legaspi, a small town in the southern part of the Philippines.
When he returned to the U.S. after the war, Petropulos became a geologist for oil companies in Texas. Because he was forced to move so often he decided to move to the Sharon area where his wife's family was living.
He got a job as a general laborer at Sharon Steel and after a month joined its metallurgy department. He earned a metallurgical degree from Youngstown State University by attending night school.
By 1966 he was well entrenched at the steelmaker.
Then 72 years old, Rockwell and his third wife toured the Farrell mill for four days in April of that year.
Rockwell painted the figures only; the backgrounds were created by Tony Dennison, a Cleveland illustrator.
Under Sharon Steel's original concept, Rockwell was given the task of painting a walk through a modern steel mill. But the acclaimed illustrator's schedule was so busy, an artistic collaboration was agreed upon to let Rockwell concentrate on Sharon Steel employees in 14 areas.
When the collection, "Men and Machines," was finished, reproductions of the paintings were used for advertising in trade journals and business publications as well as annual reports.
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Updated Aug 5, 1998
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