A plus size pin-up? From the 50s? That surely can’t be right, can it?
Well you can certainly be excused for not knowing all about Hilda, a charming red headed voluptuous lady who came into the public eye back in 1957. The creation of artist Duane Bryers, she adorned calendars produced by Brown and Bigelow from 1957 to 1985. Hilda was produced and issued with seven different pictures in each calendar. There was a larger cover portrait and six more: one for every two months.
Duane was born in Michigan in 1911 and started drawing at the age of five. As he got older he drew comic strips, murals and cowboy-based pictures. He gained commercial success after a stint in the Air Force from 1943 to 1946.
Then along came Hilda.
Duane painted close to 250 paintings of Hilda over a 36-year span. Whilst her figure remained mostly the same, her plump frame adorned in everything from flowers to red long johns, her face changed. So, who posed for the Hilda paintings?
For the most part, Duane painted her from his own imagination. He has been quoted as saying “She’s a creation out of my head. I had various models over the years, but some of my best Hilda paintings I’ve ever done were done without a model.” This meant that Hilda has several different incarnations. The face is subtly different, but the body and shape have stayed the same over the course of 36 years.
Artist Les Toil who is a Hilda Superfan and a plus size artist himself, came to know Duane well over a period of six years and even interviewed the artist himself. He has quite a considerable collection of Hilda memorabilia, after finding his first piece of “Hilda-abelia” in 1999 at an antique market, where there were five original calendars for sale. Les now owns every original calendar from between 1958 to 1970 and is somewhat of an expert.
Les explained what the attraction of Hilda was to him: “Duane was never able to maintain a perfectly uniform look for her. There seemed to be a few different variations of her face—but her curvy body never seemed to change! Nor her sweet, innocent and whimsical nature. She seems to represent everything pure and untarnished by the stark harshness of the world.”
Duane painted portraits of Hilda in watercolours on 12″ x 16″ Illustration board. These originals now sell for £800 each, with the rarer ones going for upwards of £1,000. Duane retained around 60 of the original artworks, which passed down to his daughters upon his death.
Brown and Bigelow produced several other products featuring Hilda, including two sets of glasses, playing cards, plates and ashtrays. Duane himself disliked the art produced on the glasses as they were pictures copied by staff artists at Brown and Bigelow and so featured a very simplistic rendering of Hilda, unlike the portraits themselves.
So, where and how can you start your collection of Hilda? Ebay is a great source for Hilda-abelia at affordable prices. Most of the merchandise can be purchased there, however a word of warning: prints of Hilda were never made; these are usually pages from the calendars cut out and put into a frame.
Hilda has maintained an endless appeal, however Brown and Bigelow are believed to have stopped production of the calendar around eight years ago, although given the prolific amount of work that Duane Bryers produced, they could have continued for many years to come.
Les Toil spoke to Duane on many occasions and as their friendship grew so did Les’ collection. The crowning glory to this collection is a hand sketched Hilda, with a personal note from Duane. Whilst Hilda is often shown in various stages of undress, this sketch is believed to be the only topless Hilda in existence.
Hilda’s creator passed away in 2012, just before his 101st birthday but Hilda is still going strong, with a bigger fan base than ever.
All figures and research comes from personal correspondence with Les Toil – www.toilgirls.com