America's Next Artist's Model

By Mary Savig

July 8, 2014

Curator of Manuscripts, Mary Savig, on artists and models who inspire as they strike a pose.

Think you’ve got what it takes to be an artist’s model? Vogue with us on Instagram and Twitter using #StrikeAPose.

The Archives of American Art’s current exhibition Artists and Their Models considers the important role of models in the artistic process. A model’s distinct characteristics help bring life and personality to an artist’s idea. Yet being an artist’s muse requires both muscle and moxie. Live models have to ignore their aching limbs and maintain dramatic gazes for hours at a time. They must comport their bodies into awkward positions, often while wearing little or no clothes. Original photographs in our collections offer a glimpse into the work of models. Of these images, I wonder, which of these posers is premier? I have channeled my inner Tyra Banks to rank the top artist’s models in the Archives of American Art.

 

6.

Una Hanbury sculpting Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia O'Keeffe posing for Una Hanbury, 1967 / unidentified photographer. Una Hanbury papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Georgia O’Keeffe shows us that posing doesn’t need to be painful. Donning a cozy robe, O’Keeffe reclines in the yard of her Ghost Ranch house in Abiquiu, New Mexico abode as sculptor Una Hanbury models a bust in O’Keeffe’s likeness.

 

5.

Photograph of model with fan
Model for Josef Presser, 194-? / unidentified photographer. Josef Presser papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

This model, Natasha, was likely a model for painter Josef Presser. Her sultry smizing is well-suited for Presser’s moody, expressive portraits.

 

4.

Teenage models
Three unidentified teenage boys, 195-? / Honoré Desmond Sharrer, photographer. Honoré Sharrer papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Boys modeling
Teenage boys modeling, 19-- / Honoré Desmond Sharrer, photographer. Honoré Sharrer papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Social realist painter painter Honoré Sharrer perfectly captured the swagger and ennui of teenagers in these snapshots. The images served as source material for her detailed paintings of everyday life in twentieth century America (also known as the time when teenagers could not share photos of themselves on Instagram).

 

3.

Ice skater posing
Model posing as an ice skater, 192-? / Valerie Harrisse Walter, photographer. Valerie Harrisse Walter papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

This model had to demonstrate the graceful stride of an ice skater while controlling his balance on thin blades. How might Tara and Johnny rate this performance? Let’s go with a perfect 10.

 

2.

Tony Sansone in handstand pose
Artist's model Tony Sansone executing a handstand pose, not after 1930 / unidentified photographer. Chester Beach papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Sun, mist and sea by Chester Beach
Chester Beach's sculpture Sun, mist and sea, not before 1930 / unidentified photographer. Chester Beach papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Perhaps model Tony Sansone has a leg up on the competition because he was also a professional bodybuilder. This striking handstand helped sculptor Chester Beach create Sun, Mist and Sea (1930).

 

1.

Posing model on a chair
Unidentified artists' model posing, 193-? / unidentified photographer. Allyn Cox papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

This model likely posed for accomplished muralist Allyn Cox. It’s also likely that he dominated the game of Twister with his impressive flexibility and balance…and because no one wanted to play him in the nude.

 

Join us for a free gallery talk, Friday, July 11 at 1 p.m. at the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery (8th and F Streets, NW).

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Mary Savig is the curator of manuscripts. She has yet to appear on America’s Next Top Model.

Comments

I like the pose of Tony Sansone most. Come on, doesn't it look like it was a statue for real at the first glance.
Very interesting read indeed. Thanks for sharing it. Cheers.