Was Grandma a Tonnesen Model?

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If you’ve read Geoff Johnson’s feature on Beatrice Tonnesen in the current (March) issue of Chicago Magazine, or listened to his WBEZ interview, you know that we have learned a great deal about Tonnesen’s work from the descendants of Tonnesen’s models.  In most cases, it seems, a great-aunt or a grandmother, or maybe a dimly-remembered cousin, left behind a stack of artfully composed black and white photos, all featuring that relative in his or her youth or young adulthood.  Tonnesen seems to have been in the habit of giving her models numerous photographic mementoes of their work.  Once a photo is located and can be verified as Tonnesen’s work, either through its contents or written notations, it can provide a treasure trove of clues to help us identify or date the other photos and prints in our collections, and even learn more about how the photos were created.

Your own attic may be hiding some of these forgotten, but historically significant, treasures!  If so, we’d love to see them and learn about the ancestor they feature.  Here’s some pertinent information to help, should you decide to make a search:

  • The photos will look pretty much like the ones shown in the accompanying slideshow, which came from Album #15 of the Beatrice Tonnesen Catalog (Click at the top right of this page to see the entire album containing 106 images.)  Tonnesen’s photos were sometimes marked with a “T-” followed by a three or four-digit number.
  • Tonnesen worked from about 1896-1930 in Chicago and she employed men, women and children of all ages as models.  Reportedly, she occasionally traveled elsewhere in search of models.  Models’ birthdates probably range from the mid-1800’s to the late 1920’s.
  • She sometimes employed professional models, but often her models were people she met in everyday life.  Modeling was seldom the person’s main occupation.
  • There were many whose names we don’t know at all, but the following people, all born between about 1890 and 1910, may have modeled for Tonnesen.  If so, their photos may have been handed down to family or friends:   Adelyne Slavik Schwill, Eva Grady, who sometimes went by Eva Brady; Jean Blackwell, or some very similar name; Ellen O’Connor; Josephine Huddleston; Elizabeth Green Stone; Edna Clifford; Alice Gudgeon; Rosalie Williamson; Gertrude Nelson; Mary Suchier.
  • The following who may have modeled were probably born in the 1870’s or 1880’s:  Alice Hyatt; Alice Stuart; Lillian Rosenhof or Rosenlof.

Thanks for reading!  And thanks for any information you can turn up.  We are looking forward to featuring your new Tonnesen finds here!  Just send a response (below) and we’ll get right back with you.

(C)2010 Lois Emerson

4 thoughts on “Was Grandma a Tonnesen Model?

  1. Just want to thank you for sharing the astoundingly beautiful work of this pioneering photographer. What a wonderful effort on your part!

  2. My mother received a print of a young girl sleeping and a white dog watching over her. It was from her uncle. When I got engauged my future wife saw the print yelled that is my grandma. Her grandma was Edna Clifford. I now have the print since my mother passed and gave it to my wife. I can email a picture of it if I get your email.


  3. Hi Tony,\n\nI’d love to see the print. I’ve sent you my email address as you requested. Then, we may want to post it on the website if you agree.\n\nThanks for writing!\nLois

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