It has taken me awhile to get to the point where I can write about this. On Saturday, October 24, 2015 we lost an incredibly brilliant and kind man, my friend Sumner Nelson, to lung cancer.
I first encountered Sumner in 2007 when I phoned him to ask about some photos he had posted online. The photos were of his great-aunt, Beatrice Tonnesen, and it happened that I was researching her life and work. Sumner was hosting several blogs at the time and he offered to host one more-about Beatrice and the popular, but seldom attributed, artwork she created in Chicago between 1896 and 1930.
So, for almost eight years, we collaborated to bring Beatrice’s accomplishments to light. In a tweet last April, he characteristically understated his role as “Sumner’s little art/web participation.” It’s a lot more than that.
Not only did he make the blog itself happen, he constantly tweaked the formats and slideshows, and restored the sometimes tattered images I sent him. Later, when we had enough material for a book, he and his wife, Martha, flew to Germany, where Terry and I were living, and scanned and photographed our collection. Then Sumner learned e-book formatting and published the book himself!
Sumner was never just a participant. He was an enabler of good things. He made things happen. I’m so lucky to have known him and shared eight years of this endeavor with him. Thanks for everything, Sumner. I’m forever grateful.
Back in September of 2014, we posted a picture of “Finishing Touches”, circa 1900, a 7×9 inch print by the Tonnesen Sisters given free by Johnson & Johnson with every purchase of their baby powder. Now, thanks to site visitor Ginger Cannon, we have an example of one of the ways in which Johnson & Johnson marketed their baby powder promotion. Inside her great-grandmother’s bible, Ginger found a small (about 4×5), tattered card with a miniature version of the print on the front and information about the free offer of the full size print on the back.
Ginger theorizes that her great-grandmother, Minnie Mae Willoughby Elder, had kept the card as a cherished remembrance of her sister, Jessie Willoughby, who died while a teenager. The young Jessie had signed her name to the back of the card, probably admiring it as she identified with the theme of the print in which a smiling young girl emulates her mother at her vanity table.
Front and back images of the trade card are shown below. Our original post about the full-size “Finishing Touches” can be seen here.
Copyright 2015 Lois Emerson
Last year, I purchased what I thought was a framed black and white print,copyright 1900 by the Tonnesen Sisters. I was especially interested in it because it had an intriguing handwritten note attached to the backing. The note said, “One of Mrs Jennings pictures of Sch’dy. Edna Lein’s (Lewis?) mother. Erie Pa.” Since I have had some success locating Beatrice Tonnesen’s original photos through the descendants of her models, I was interested in the possible clues offered in the note. The child model in the photo appears to be Alice Gudgeon (b. 1894), who was featured in a pictorial in the Chicago Tribune in 1900. So I scoured Ancestry.com and other sources for someone named Mrs. Jennings, Edna Lein or Edna Lewis, or any reference to Erie, PA in Alice’s life. But, alas, I found nothing. I also have no idea what “Sch’dy” might mean.
Then, recently, it occurred to me that the print itself might carry some information that I couldn’t see while it was in its frame. So I took it apart and discovered first that it is a photo, not a print, and second, it is titled “Hungry Friends #27” on the back in what appears to be the handwriting of Beatrice Tonnesen herself! This is the third Tonnesen Sisters era photo that I have found. The other two were copyrighted in 1901 and bear the numbers “93” and “114”, a sequence that suggests a chronological numbering system similar to the T-numbers seen on Tonnesen’s later solo works. (You can see the 1901 images and compare the handwriting on them, here.)
The accompanying slideshow displays the photo titled “Hungry Friends,” the handwritten title and number and the note attached to the backing. I’m hoping someone out there will recognize the reference to Mrs. Jennings, the daughter named Edna and Erie PA, or even the meaning of “Sch’dy.” (Note: The photo is attached to a mat so that it does not lie flat on the scanner. This causes the scan to appear a bit blurry.)
Copyright 2015 Lois Emerson
Site visitor Ron Grassmann took one look at the little girl in our post of December 3, and was immediately reminded of a child in a print on a calendar in his own collection. Grassmann, who with his wife, Cora, edits Fox Tales
, the newsletter of the vintage art collectors of the RA Fox Society
, located the calendar and,very kindly, sent a scan to us for inclusion here on our blog. The print, titled “Chums” on the 1926 calendar, is signed Beatrice Tonnesen and was copyrighted by the Calumet Baking Powder Co.
The name “Tonneson” appears on the mat below the print, evidently added, but not proof-read, by the publisher. Thanks to Ron Grassmann for sharing this charming find with us!
[Click on the image for a larger size.]
Copyright 2015 Lois Emerson
Beatrice Tonnesen never tired of photographing beautiful women and beautiful scenes of family life. Last July, we featured five images of beautiful women, all of which had either found their way into my collection or been confirmed as Tonnesen’s work during 2014.
Here, we present newly found or newly identified images of Tonnesen’s other favorite subject: Children shown at play or with their mothers. The accompanying slideshow contains four newly found images of the 1920s toddler sometimes known as Sunny Jim. The Tonnesen Archives of both Oshkosh Public Museum and Winneconne Historical Society contain several photographs of this child. To read and view more about him/her, see the post “Captivating Toddler a 1920’s Favorite”, 2/28/2011. The fifth image in the slideshow features William Redmond (1910-1992), with two unknown child models. The girl’s dress and William’s outfit can be found in other images by Tonnesen. The identity of the artist who added the beautiful outdoor scene is unknown. It could have been Tonnesen, but the print is unsigned. Sixth in the slideshow, is a lovely mother/child scene from a 1928 calendar, in which two frequent Tonnesen models sit in a chair belonging to Tonnesen. She seems to have loved showing mothers and children enjoying “storytime” together. The last image is titled “Sweet is the Baby’s Waking Smile” shown on a 1924 calendar. Mom’s dress can be seen frequently in other examples of Tonnesen’s work.
Copyright 2014 Lois Emerson
It’s always a thrill to find a signed Tonnesen image that I have never before seen! But this one is especially interesting, featuring elements that further connect Tonnesen’s work with that of her colleague R. Atkinson Fox (1870 – 1935), as well as providing a closeup view of a vintage baby doll that allowed me to confirm another print in my collection as a Tonnesen. Both prints, seen here in the accompanying slideshow, are examples of the work Tonnesen did in the last decade of her career, and they feature two beautiful child models who seem to have been among her favorites.
I have seen the child in the signed print in photos by Tonnesen that appeared as prints with copyrights dated 1921 to 1927. Always pensive, never smiling, I believe she also appears in at least one image painted by R. Atkinson Fox under his DeForest pseudonym. Fox collectors can see her in DeForest’s “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not,” [included in the Beatrice Tonnesen Catalog Album 8] in which she appears alongside a young admirer posed by fellow Tonnesen model William Redmond (1908-1992). Meanwhile, the flowery background is reminiscent of other Fox prints, notably DeForest’s “Age of Innocence” [included in the Beatrice Tonnesen Catalog Album 7] in which Tonnesen model Virginia Waller (1913-2006) holds yet another vintage doll.
The second print, titled “Guard Duty” and found unsigned on a 1930 calendar, features another child model seen in photos from the Tonnesen archives in both the Oshkosh Public Museum and the Winneconne Historical Society, with inventory numbers that date them to the mid-1920s. The doll the child is holding appears to be the same one as in the signed Tonnesen print, convincing me that this image, too, is by Tonnesen. I had believed this to be Tonnesen’s work, based not only on the presence of the Tonnesen model, but on the photographer’s posing of the sleeping child on the makeshift prop, just as Tonnesen did in her photo titled “On Guard” (owned by Oshkosh Public Museum). “On Guard” later became a painting by A. Pope, shown and titled “Safely Guarded” on a 1927 calendar print. In Pope’s work, the prop is painted over to become part of the landscape. This post and slideshow from October, 2010 contain both images.
Copyright 2014 Lois Emerson