Introducing the Tonnesen Models – Part 1

“Then destiny struck in Chicago; a photographer named Beatrice Tonnesen used pictures of live girls in ads for the first time…By the end of World War I, the rush to put women in ads was on.”

-Time Magazine
September 19, 1949
P. 89

Beatrice Tonnesen, assisted by her sister/business manager Clara, revolutionized the world of print advertising. Not only is Tonnesen reported to have pioneered the use of live models in advertising around the turn of the last century, she reportedly also operated as a modeling agency, thereby controlling access to some of the era's most photographed faces…and all of that was in addition to her prolific contributions to the world of calendar art.

‘The Age of Innocence', signed DeForest (R.A.Fox), based on photo by B. Tonnesen.Given her reported work as a modeling agent, it’s quite possible that when we come across the likeness of a Tonnesen model in a work produced by another studio, it is because Tonnesen or someone employed by her, assigned the model to that project. Photographers aren't often identified, either in print ads or in calendar art, but, so far, I have found Tonnesen models in works attributed to four other photography studios of the era: the Keedy, Riel, Stadler and Alsop Studios.

For that reason, when it comes to determining whether or not an image originated with Tonnesen, the presence of a Tonnesen model alone is not sufficient. (See “Identifying Tonnesen's Work…” for other identifiers.) But it's a very good start, and for that reason, I set about the work of identifying her models a couple of years ago.

This series of articles displays images of Tonnesen’s more commonly featured models. (We’ll display images from some of her print ads in a future post.) My primary objective is to show these models from various angles in a variety of settings to help make them more recognizable for the purpose of identifying Tonnesen's works. But I also am hopeful that someone out there will recognize an ancestor's face or name, or, even more exciting, him or herself. Tonnesen produced calendar art until around 1930, so some of the child models might very well be living. Everytime we identify a model or find a model's family, we have the potential to learn something new. The models seem to have shared their memories with their families, and passed down souvenirs of their careers which are rich in information about Tonnesen's work.

In this first installment, we'll take a look at the work of child models Virginia Waller and Janie Burkhardt (or Berkhauer) and Jean Blackwell, who often portrayed the mother. The images accompanying this article appear in Slideshow Album 7 along with explanatory captions. I have no biographical information on Janie or Jean. But, I've found that it adds meaning to the artwork when we recognize and reflect on the fact that our treasured prints feature real people who lived real lives. With that in mind, Virginia's story appears below.

Virginia Waller Wicks
Jean Blackwell, Janie Burkhardt & Virginia Waller by Beatrice TonnesenBorn March 1, 1913, Virginia Waller (shown here with Jean Blackwell and Janie Burkhhardt/Berkhauer) began modeling when she was only three years old. Her son, Ken, remembers Virginia telling him that she and her mother were shopping in a Chicago store when Beatrice Tonnesen approached and asked if Viginia might be allowed to model for her photos. By that time, Tonnesen had a booming business providing images for print advertising as well as calendar art. Virginia became a familiar figure in the so-called “Cult of Motherhood” genre that was gaining popularity in illustration art in the late teens and 20's. Her short bobbed hair, dainty dresses and patent leather Mary Janes were emblematic of children's fashion of the era. Indeed, in my experience, Virginia seems to have been the most photographed of Tonnesen's child models.

Virginia modeled regularly for four years, roughly 1916-1919, but she evidently returned periodically over the years for “guest appearances.” Her family has a few photos of her that seem to have been taken in her teenage years.

Virginia went on to graduate high school and work as a billing supervisor for fourteen years before becoming the wife of Willard Wicks and the mother of Kenneth and Sharon. She fondly remembered her work with Beatrice Tonnesen, and was proud of the beautiful photographs in which she had appeared. A few months after Virginia's death in October, 2006, the family held a memorial service in New Mexico where she and her husband had retired. The service featured displays of photos and prints showing the young Virginia happily portraying the model child that she was.

Coming soon:

Part 2: Images of William Redmond (1908-1992), the child model who later became Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives; his recollections of the thriving photographic art studio scene of his youth. Images of Betty Crowe (1910 – ); what she has to say about working with Beatrice Tonnesen, Virginia Waller and William Redmond.

Part 3: Images of other models frequently featured in Tonnesen's works with approximate timelines.

Part 4: Turn of the century models – those found in the black and white newspaper Sunday supplements and those elaborately framed Victorian parlor scenes.

All Content Copyright 2008 Lois Emerson

4 thoughts on “Introducing the Tonnesen Models – Part 1

  1. I recently was at an estate sale in Ashland, KY (Shmidt House) and saw a beautiful framed Print , a black and white photo of Father Time and a young woman with a book, I saw the same picture on your slide show, in the bottom right hand corner is this:
    Copyright 1901
    Tonnesen Sisters
    I was wondering if this print has a title, and who are the models in the print?
    Please email me with any answers. Thank you
    Yes, I purchased the print and the frame, both very old and delicate.

  2. Hi,
    I’m not aware of a title for this print. I have never been able to find any information on the man, but he does appear in a number of prints by Tonnesen. I think the woman is Lillian Rosenhof. She is shown in the Chicago Tribune feature discussed in “Introducing the Tonnesen Models, Part 4” and the accompanying slideshow album.

Leave a comment