Vintage Indian Maiden Prints: How Many Were Created in Tonnesen's Studio?

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This illustration by Homer Nelson appeared on a 1925 calendar as part of Brown & Bigelow's "Indian Heroine Series". The source photo by Beatrice Tonnesen was found at the Winneconne (WI) Historical Society. The illustrated detail of the headband is, more or less, faithful to the photo. Mary Simmonds O'Grady (1896-1976) is believed to have been the model.

Only four of the many, hugely popular vintage calendar prints of Indian maidens have been confirmed to have been created by Beatrice Tonnesen. They are “Whispering Waters” and “Winona”, both signed by Tonnesen; “Wabano” (Dawn of Woman), by Homer Nelson, whose source photo resides in the Tonnesen Archive of the Winneconne (WI) Historical Society; and “YooHoo!” posed by a frequent Tonnesen model and attributed to Tonnesen on a 1925 calendar. All of those images, and their stories, are gathered together in our ebook, The Secret Source: Beatrice Tonnesen and the Calendar Art of the Golden Age of Illustration, available through

However, I've always felt that Tonnesen was responsible for many more of the posed photographs of beautiful women dressed as Native Americans and illustrated by the nation's top calendar artists, in the rush to satisfy the public appetite for the genre in the 1910s, 20s and 30s.

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Tonnesen's “Indian Maiden” Lived Happily Ever After

Whispering Waters
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Titled "Whispering Waters" and signed Beatrice Tonnesen, this calendar print is believed to feature Mary Simmonds O'Grady. Though this particular print is undated, I have seen it on a 1925 calendar.

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Separation Anxiety: TDM’s “Rose O’Killarney” Has Me Wondering!

Rose O'Killarney

Rose O’Killarney

In February 2009, I proudly posted an image of one of my most prized possessions, an original pastel and watercolor portrait of two beautiful women, painted from a photo by Beatrice Tonnesen. The painting had been found in the archives of the now-defunct Thomas D. Murphy Calendar Co., of Red Oak, Iowa. There was a bit of mystery attached to my treasure because in almost thirty years of collecting vintage calendars, I could not remember ever having seen a published print of this duo. Did TDM really purchase this gorgeous painting, never to use it? [Click on images for larger version.]

Thomas D. Murphy Calendar Co.

Thomas D. Murphy Calendar Co.

Now, however, I have an answer of sorts, but it raises other questions. I recently found a 1919 calendar with a print of one beautiful woman – not two – and the woman is clearly the same one who appears on the right side of the original painting. Titled “Rose O’Killarney,” her solo calendar appearance matches every detail shown in the painting, right down to the green sprigs peeking out of her rose bouquet. Interestingly, since in the painting she was partially obscured on the left by her companion, the calendar illustrator had to fill in some missing areas when the two subjects were separated. But wait! Could it be that the painting was formed and painted from two separate photos, with “Rose O’Killarney” being one of them? In that case, the calendar illustrator would have had a complete photographic image of Rose with which to work.

So now, I wonder, is there a calendar print of Rose’s friend out there somewhere? Or is there a calendar somewhere that shows the two beauties reunited? Did TDM get two, or even three, calendar prints for the price of one painting? Or did they, perhaps, purchase two separate photos from Tonnesen, and then position and illustrate them together for the painting?

Included here, are images of the original painting, along with the calendar print of “Rose O’Killarney.” For more examples of curiously constructed prints with elements by Tonnesen, please see Album 12, “Tonnesen Images Make Mystery Appearances” in the Beatrice Tonnesen Catalogue.

Copyright 2014 Lois Emerson

R.A. Fox Painted his “Children’s Hour” from Photo by Tonnesen

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During the 1920’s, famed calendar artist R. Atkinson Fox (1860-1935) shared Beatrice Tonnesen’s Chicago studio. Fox is known to have painted from some of Tonnesen’s photos, and a photo found at the Winneconne (WI) Historical Society appears to be a companion to the source photo for Fox’s “The Children’s Hour”, which is signed with Fox’s pseudonym “DeForest.”

Around 1923, Tonnesen created a photo portraying a beautiful young mother reading to her two children. The scene went on to become an unsigned calendar print titled “The Morning Lesson.” “The Children’s Hour” is a variation on “The Morning Lesson” – same people, same clothing, same theme – only a different placement of the people in the room and different coloring and illustrated backgrounds. So it’s likely that both source photos were the products of the same photo shoot.

Even without seeing the Winneconne photo, it is clear that “The Children’s Hour” originated in Tonnesen’s studio. The chair and rug appear often in photos confirmed to be by Tonnesen. The accompanying slideshow features “The Children’s Hour”, in which “Mom” sits in the middle, between the children, followed by the original photo found at Winneconne, in which “Mom” sits on the left, and “The Morning Lesson,” which came from the Winneconne photo, and may or may not have been illustrated by R. Atkinson Fox. Other prints by R.A. Fox that are known to have originated as photos by Tonnesen are “The Barefoot Boy” (See Album 1 in the catalog) and “The Glory of Youth” (Use the search box on the right side of this page.)

Copyright 2014 Lois Emerson

Was this Tragic Silent Film Star a Tonnesen Model?

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A Little Bit Of Heaven

A Little Bit Of Heaven

Lucille Ricksen - younger

Lucille Ricksen – younger

Lucille Ricksen - older

Lucille Ricksen – older

Chicago Daily Tribune archives have been very helpful in my efforts to find and identify the people who modeled for Beatrice Tonnesen’s photographic art. Using the search term “child model,” I recently discovered Lucille Ricksen (1910-1925), a Chicago-born model/actress who moved to Los Angeles in 1920, began playing adult parts around 1923, and died shockingly in 1925. A Google search on “Lucille Ricksen” yielded scores of sites that feature her biography, her photos or both. Some of the early photos of Lucille reminded me of a child I’d seen in an image by Tonnesen, so I dug a little deeper.

From online sources, primarily Wikipedia, I learned that Lucille was born Ingeborg Myrtle Elisabeth Ericksen, to Samuel and Ingeborg Ericksen in Chicago in 1910. Reportedly, she began modeling at age 4, joining the Chicago-based Essanay (silent film) Studio at around age 5 and, at some point, changing her name to Lucille Ricksen. Essanay began to shift production to California during the 1910’s, and Lucille’s mother took her to Los Angeles in 1920, where she worked in movies produced by Samuel Goldwyn, later Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and others. Wikipedia lists 36 films, some of them shorts, in which Lucille appeared in the five years between her arrival in Hollywood and her death there in March of 1925. Several months before her death, Lucille became too ill to work and was ordered to bed by her doctor. Her mother, who maintained a vigil by her bedside, collapsed and died in Lucille’s arms, only weeks before Lucille herself died! The most frequently reported cause of Lucille’s death was tuberculosis, but other sources suggest overwork and/or complications from an abortion.
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Advertising Fans: Popular Collectibles Feature Art by Tonnesen

American 3 Color Co. Ad
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This is the second page of a 2-sided advertising sheet by the American 3 Color Co. of Chicago showcasing designs for advertising fans, cards and blotters in their 1901 product line. The first page featured pictures of sample calendars.

In the days before air conditioning became commonplace, cardboard hand fans were often the best way to stay cool on a hot day. Decidedly useful, they were attractive and informative, as well. A lot has been written about the “calendar art” of the Golden Age of Illustration.  Here on our blog, we’ve been focusing on the period roughly between 1900 and 1930, and the role Beatrice Tonnesen played.  But it struck me recently that we have been so interested in presenting the art itself, that we’ve said little about the fact that what we call “calendar art” is really so much more.  Most of the publishers of the era produced a whole line of advertising items in addition to calendars.  Many of the paintings and photographs that were printed and offered to advertisers on calendars, were also available on blotters, trade cards and, perhaps most notably, on hand fans.
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