Some people on the vintage scene would have you believe that ladies in the 1950s were all tiny, that nobody fancied fat girls, and that Gil Elvgren or George Petty were the be-all and end-all when it came to pinup art. These people are wrong, and to them I would like to introduce Hilda.
Hilda was the creation of artist Duane Bryers, and was the subject of calendars produced by printers Brown & Bigelow from 1958 until about 1970, and apparently some of the paintings were re-used by the company on calendars for many years afterwards. It is unfortunate that Bryers' early work is something of a footnote when it comes to pinup history, as his talent was easily equal to that of the more well-known artists and his subject matter utterly endearing. However, he worked as a professional artist for many years, as his calendar paintings were always in demand and he has in later life gained excellent recognition for his Western paintings. To my knowledge he is still alive and painting to this day - if so, he is one hundred years old this year. One of his recent paintings, of an Apache on horseback, was sold in Texas just six weeks ago.
The best resource on the internet for Hilda images and information is Les Toil's Hilda Page, lovingly created by modern plus-size pinup artist Les as a tribute to Bryers' work and to Hilda herself (it is also where I have stolen most of these pictures from, so go take a look, maybe commission a painting!)
Hilda was the first mainstream plus-sized pinup. Vintage erotic photographs from the 1900s-era often features slightly larger-than-average girls, but in my view those girls were the norm for erotica of the time, just average, slightly plump women from a time when there was no real body prejudice in the fledgling photographic titillation industry, and when the practise of making pictures of semi-nude women was regarded as highly scandalous. By the 1950s however, the pinup was a part of the national consciousness of America, a cultural icon that hung in every garage, was used to advertise everything from soft drinks to plumbing supplies, and had accompanied airmen to war on the noses of WWII bombers. She was regarded as the ideal all-American girl and though still slightly risqué, pinup art was not considered rude.
Elvgren famously considered the ideal subject for a pinup painting to have the face of a fifteen year old on the body of a twenty-five year old, but Hilda was no girl - she was all woman. Whereas Elvgren's girls were beautiful, imaginary dolls with tiny waists, Hilda was a huge step away from the typical pinup art of the day, embodying the Botticellian ideal of a flame-haired, buxom sprite, at ease with her curves in full celebration of her soft, rounded womanhood.
My favourite thing about the Duane Bryers' work is that whereas occasionally Hilda would be seen doing something silly such as being chased by bees after her flower bikini or sweeping dirt under the rug, she was never portrayed in any situation which made fun of her full figure - she was always happy, frolicking and contented whilst getting into scrapes, relaxing by the fire in her red long-Johns, or enjoying the great outdoors with her little pup. Bryers loved his plus-sized pinup, just as many people do today. Here is my meagre Hilda collection - two playing cards, and the original first Hilda calendar, from 1958. Bryers considers the cover painting to be his Hilda masterpiece, and I'm proud to own a copy of it.
This is the picture for November and December - Hilda playing the saw. I bought a vintage saw for this purpose after having a go at playing my friend's here, but haven't gotten myself a violin bow yet. What's the betting I won't look as carefree as Hilda while I'm wailing away at it?
Hilda paved the way for decades of plus-sized erotica, and though some of it is distinctly unpalatable there are plenty of big, sassy girls out there doing what Hilda did best in a climate where images of stick-thin models or silicone-stuffed porn stars are the only things regarded by the media as attractive. My favourite buxom beauties are the beautiful April Flores and burlesque queen Eva Von Slut, who is also the singer in the all-girl psychobilly band Thee Merry Widows.