New Finds Provide Better Look at Tonnesen’s Indian Maiden


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Back in 2009, an original photo by Beatrice Tonnesen was discovered at the Winneconne Historical Society in Winneconne, WI. The photo showed a beautiful dark-haired woman dressed as an Indian maiden. I recognized the image as one titled “Dawn of Woman” and attributed to illustrator Homer Nelson in a book about vintage calendar illustration. The find at Winnecone proved that Nelson had painted from a photo by Tonnesen. Unfortunately, I did not have Nelson’s print in my collection, so the only way to show the image on this blog was to post the small black and white picture that was shown in the book.

Then, in 2010, I found three photos of a Chicago beauty queen, Mary Simmonds (1895 – 1976), as shown in 1921 in The Chicago Tribune in an online archive. The images were not the best, but they were good enough to cause me to speculate that Simmonds had modeled for the Tonnesen photo that became Nelson’s “Dawn of Woman.” So, I posted them.

And that was that, until recently, when I found and purchased a 1925 calendar with an original color print of “Dawn of Woman.” Then, a few weeks later, while cleaning my hobby room, I discovered that I had an original issue of a 1921 Chicago Tribune showing two very clear images of the same photos of Mary Simmonds! I had bought a stack of 1920’s papers years ago, and I guess I never really looked through them! I’ve now scanned both the original calendar and the original newspaper photos and am thrilled to be able to share them in the slideshow at right.

Seeing these originals has made me even more inclined to believe that Mary Simmonds portrayed this Indian maiden. I also believe she was the model for another beautiful Indian maiden print titled “Whispering Waters,” signed by Beatrice Tonnesen and shown in Album 1 of the Tonnesen Catalogue on this blog. Census information shows that Simmonds married James O’Grady in November of 1921 and remained in Chicago, raising eight sons. This gives me hope that there are some O’grady relatives out there somewhere, with some photos by Tonnesen as mementoes of their ancestor’s career!

For more on “Dawn of Woman,” including an image of Tonnesen’s original black and white photo, and on Mary Simmonds, see our two previous posts: June 8, 2009 “Homer Nelson Print Features Tonnesen’s Indian Maiden,” and June 26, 2010 “Indian Maiden May Have Been Chicago Beauty Queen.”

Copyright 2012 Lois Emerson



’20’s Era “Supermodels” Starred in Tonnesen’s Photos


It is well documented that Beatrice Tonnesen often featured amateur models in her photographs. As one of the country’s most successful female photographers, she garnered considerable press coverage, and it’s sprinkled with colorful stories of how she sprinted down streets, and on and off streetcars in pursuit of potential models who caught her eye. But she also used professional models in her work. In a May, 2010 post titled “Did Tonnesen Photograph a Ziegfeld Girl?” I identified three prominent professional models who seem to have posed for Tonnesen. The Ziegfeld girl mentioned in the title referred to Chicago-born Eva Grady (1899-1934), also known as Eva Brady. The other two, also Chicago natives, were Mae Burns (1896-1987) and Adelyne Slavik (1897?-1984), both of whom sometimes toured with Grady in runway style shows that were popular throughout the midwest. These shows typically featured twenty or more beautiful models, but Burns, Slavik and Grady were headliners.

Since writing that post, I’ve found additional images and information that further confirms the three as nationally celebrated beauties of their time. Today, I believe, they would qualify as “supermodels.” For example, I recently found an article in the Atlanta Constitution Magazine Section of September 11, 1921 in which Florenz Ziegfeld himself proclaimed Eva Brady one of the ten most beautiful women in the world. The article, titled “Has American Beauty Declined?” cited “Eva Brady, the beautiful Brunette from Chicago who was an artist’s model before she entered the beauty chorus,” as a prime reason to conclude that it had not.

The slideshow, above right, features print items attesting to the celebrity of her fellow beauties Adelyne Slavik and Mae Burns, paired with artwork by Beatrice Tonnesen believed to feature the three women. From left to right:

    1. This item in The Chicago Tribune, September 12, 1919, reported that artist’s model Adelyne Slavik accused a prominent phonograph maker of paying her only $3 for an image used in ads in newspapers, billboards and theater programs. She filed suit against the firm for $20,000 – the amount she figured her picture in an ad was worth.


    1. This is the ad that prompted Adelyne Slavik’s lawsuit, shown in a 1918 program for Broadway’s Cort Theater.


    1. Mae Burns was so popular that a fox-trot was named for her! This copy of the sheet music is held by the Lily Library of Indiana State University.


    1. Print titled “Reflections” believed to feature Eva Grady, found on a 1922 calendar, copyrighted by Brown & Bigelow in 1920. The Oshkosh Public Museum owns the original photo by Tonnesen.


    1. Print titled “Mother’s Jewels” believed to feature Adelyne Slavik. The props and costumes can be confirmed as belonging to Tonnesen. The family of Virginia Waller (1913-2006), the child model greeting the baby, has an original photo.


    1. Untitled print showing woman believed to be Mae Burns, wearing a distinctive dress from Tonnesen’s wardrobe. This appeared on an undated clothing advertisement.

To see other images thought to feature these professional models, see Albums 4, 9 and 15 in the Beatrice Tonnesen Catalogue. Move your cursor over the images to see captions containing information about them, including the names of persons believed to have modeled for each image.

Copyright 2012 Lois Emerson

Captivating Toddler A 1920s Favorite

Cute kids sell calendars! And Beatrice Tonnesen obviously knew a cute photo subject when she saw one. More than a dozen Tonnesen-produced images of this chubby, curly-haired charmer have surfaced, many of them originally appearing on calendars and other advertising goods during the mid to late 1920’s. At least two prominent artists of the time, C.C. Zwaan (1882-1964) and R. Atkinson Fox (1860-1935), as well as Tonnesen herself, apparently painted from photos of this toddler.

One of Tonnesen’s photos shows the child holding a newspaper. Its headline refers to a late November, 1922 event. If that date can be used as a guide, I would guess the child was born in late 1920 or early 1921. Interestingly, some of the photos portray him/her as a girl, others as a boy. It appears the child modeled for a period of at least several months to a year, portraying a girl in later photos. Then there are some prints of an older girl, perhaps four or five years old, who may be this same child.

The slideshow at right, displays this seemingly ever-playful and good-natured toddler in a variety of poses and settings. Images are of original prints from my collection, unless otherwise noted. Here’s the information I have on each of them:
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Indian Maiden May Have Been Chicago Beauty Queen

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Around 1922, Beatrice Tonnesen photographed a dark-haired beauty in Native American dress against a neutral background.  Photographs such as this one were in high demand for use by prominent illustrators who added backgrounds and details, producing the romanticized depictions of exotic and adventurous women that had caught the imagination of the calendar-buying public.  Best sellers featured Indian maidens paddling canoes near waterfalls, or standing dreamily amid forest or mountain landscapes.  Also popular were scenes of women in far-off places, costumed in pirate, gypsy or Egyptian garb.  Neither the costumes nor the women who wore them seem to have been authentically Native American or Egyptian.  Nor is it likely any real pirates or gypsies were involved!

Presumably, the subjects were simply local women, supporting or helping to support themselves by posing for artists and photographers.  And Tonnesen’s backgroundless Indian maiden photo, which ultimately became a woodsy calendar print by artist Homer Nelson, may have featured a Chicago beauty queen named Mary Simmonds. In 1921, Mary Simmonds (1895-1976) entered a beauty contest for residents of the midwest. Sponsored by The Chicago Tribune, it offered a total of $20,200 in prize money.  Simmonds didn’t win the big prize, but she was named “Chicago’s Most Beautiful Girl,” winning $1,000 and considerable publicity.
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