As many home-schooling families do, the Baldwin family of New York follows a classical curriculum. Also, for many families, the world is their classroom.
Unlike most home-schooling families, however, the world is also their place of work. As advertising models, the Baldwins’ clients include popular clothiers, soft drink companies and international vacation resorts.
As they model, the Baldwins model their faith, too. The Baldwins recently spoke with the Register about modeling, home schooling and cultivating their faith in unusual circumstances.
Under normal circumstances, the Baldwins attend daily Mass. Throughout the pandemic, they have read the readings together at home, watched the consecration of the Mass televised on EWTN, and made spiritual communions. And they pray the Rosary together daily.
“We still try to stay on what our normal schedule would be,” dad Bart said amid the pandemic. “It’s just, we’re not, unfortunately, having the opportunity to be in the Real Presence of the Eucharist. Definitely, it’s a challenge.”
Regarding the family’s modeling, it all started when Bart was playing football at Tulane University in New Orleans and required a minor surgery during his senior year. The surgeon suggested that when Bart finished school, he should meet the surgeon’s wife, who owned a modeling agency. Bart had never considered modeling as a profession.
“You see these magazines or catalogues, but you don’t think that’s actually a job,” Bart said. “Plus, I was 21 or 22 years old. I was like, ‘Okay, well, that’s cool.’”
Bart got a spot in one of the first commercials he auditioned for, and his modeling career quickly took off. Mom Jessica, meanwhile, was enrolled at University of Central Florida as a theater major and worked at an outdoor musical theater during the summer in Galveston, Texas, where Bart would visit his parents on weekends.
“I would go to Mass, and I saw this really cute girl in Mass a few weeks in a row,” he said. “We ended up chatting one day after Mass. We got married in Galveston a year later by the priest that was saying Mass the day we met.”
Bart continued his print and catalogue modeling and Jessica began to act in commercials. After their first child, Bonnie, was born, they began modeling together.
As the next four children — Barrett, Curtis, Jeannie and William — arrived over the following 10 years, the Baldwins sought to reflect what they are at home — a family — at work.
“I look like a guy who would be a dad,” Bart said. “The clients would be hiring and pair me up with random kids, so I just started telling my agents about the kids.”
“What clients like about it is they want to try to capture something that’s really genuine and it feels authentic,” Bart said.
“Naturally, that would be easier to do if you have a real family who knows the industry enough and is professional enough that they can fall into that comfortable family mode and the photographer moves around and captures it.”
“I’m kind of known as the guy with all the kids, because there are not a lot of people in my business that have this many kids.”
The fact that the Baldwins home-school also means they are more available to model than children on a traditional school schedule. The Baldwin children enjoy the work.
“They’re always excited,” Jessica said, “because they get to go somewhere fun, and they get to meet new people.”
“That’s not to say that it’s not work,” Bart said.
“One of the first jobs I remember early on, it was Bonnie and Jessica and I, and we went to the beach. Then you realize, after you’re there for eight or 10 hours, I don’t even go to the beach for fun for eight hours. And they’re deciding they’re going to shoot the stuff on the kid at hour seven, and you want to be smiley and natural and friendly. From that point on, I was like, ‘I’m never going to tell the kid it’s not work.’”
Bart notes the similarity to the teamwork involved in football games.
“If you show up and you have a great attitude and you’re a great team player, then you make the job easier for everybody,” he said.
“It’s no different than showing up for a game. The kids started seeing it that way, and at the end of the day, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh dad, did we have fun on the beach?’ It was like, ‘Hey, did we do a good job?’ There was a sense of pride and achieving something and doing it as a team, which was really, really awesome, because we were doing it as a family and we were helping a bigger team.”
“I feel like working as models really helped teach our kids to be others-centered as opposed to self-centered,” Jessica said.
“There was something special about the job environment that made it so that they could really see how they could be a blessing in other people’s lives.”
The Baldwins started home schooling so that the family could stay together when Bart had to travel between the modeling hubs of Miami and New York.
Jessica said the advice of her mom, who was a kindergarten teacher, and that of her pastor, who suggested she check out a home-schooling convention in Orlando, Florida, convinced her to give it a try. “Then I found out about this Catholic home-schooling group in Miami,” Jessica said.
“They were amazing families, devout, super-enriching. We didn’t have anything and we were completely isolated, and then all of a sudden it was instant community, instant family, and our whole lives changed,” she said. “They were giving us great Catholic books to read; I joined the Legion of Mary; Bonnie was leading the Rosary at nursing homes in the fifth grade. It was really a golden time in our lives.”
Just as they do at home, the Baldwins try to live their faith on the job. A December CBS segment about the family showed them making the Sign of the Cross and praying before a meal. Sometimes the boys forget to take their scapulars off before pool or beach shoots, and a photographer will ask about them.
When others in the modeling industry ask Bart why he seems so serene, he shares about his faith.
“Whatever people would find attractive about me, it wouldn’t be me, per se, but it would be God’s light through me,” Bart said.
“They know me as a guy who loves his wife, who loves his family, who’s devoted, and that can be an inspiration to people because it can be a lonely industry.”
Bart added, “This is where God has us, and it’s our job to live our life where he has us, to be the best we can be, or who he wants us to be.”
Mary Rose Short writes