CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. — When voters in Cambridge, N.Y., decided the town school was due for a renovation, science teacher Steve Butz knew there was one piece of the 1950 building that deserved to be preserved: the door to the principal’s office.
The plain door once served as a model for one of Norman Rockwell’s iconic paintings, ‘‘Girl With Black Eye,’’ also known as ‘‘The Shiner’’ and ‘‘Triumph in Defeat.’’
‘‘Holy cow!’’ Butz recalled thinking when he learned the school intended to discard the door as part of the $11 million rehabilitation. ‘‘We should save it.’’
In 1953, Rockwell drove the short distance from his studio in Arlington, Vt., to Cambridge, a village among rolling farmland 35 miles northeast of Albany.
Rockwell often used local residents and locales for settings in his work for The Saturday Evening Post. In Cambridge, he found inspiration for his depiction of a schoolgirl awaiting her turn in the principal’s office after getting into a fight.
Rockwell took photographs of the principal’s office and the door as well as the principal and his secretary.
He even had the door taken off its hinges and brought to his studio. His studio photo shoots also included Mary Whalen Leonard, then 11, who wound up serving as the model for the feisty, plaid skirt-wearing girl with the post-fight disheveled pigtails.
The illustrator asked her if she would love to win a fight with her brothers and ‘‘just pulled that smile out of me that day,” Whalen, now 75, told the Associated Press Thursday.
Butz received approval to preserve the door as part of an exhibit on the school’s key role in one of Rockwell’s most famous works.
The door has been placed in a glass display case near the school’s library since November, accompanied by some of Rockwell’s black-and-white reference photos and a framed copy of the Saturday Evening Post cover.