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



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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