Once upon a time, there was….
Well, actually, we have discussed him in this space ere this, so this is probably fourth of fifth upon a time. Anyhoo, once there was an artist named Walter Wellman, who made his mark in the postcard world, producing hundreds of cartoons for the enjoyment of postcard buyers, many of which he published himself, being somewhat of an independent soul and, besides, someone who wanted the majority of the profit to come to him, and not to some sorporate entity which in general didn’t allow the artists to put their names on the pictures they worked so hard to produce. (George Salter led a campaign among artists who did covers for paperback books to allow them to sign their work; I haven’t heard if there was a similar protest leader for postcard cartoonists.)
Wellman did his work for over thirty years, and his work covers the foibles of mankind extensively, and gave plenty of material for collectors in many areas. But one subject he worked with extensively was the American woman, and the clothing thereof.
He began in the era of big hats and big hair, as seen at the top of this column, and, as mentioned hereintofore, used an impossibly pompadoured young woman as his trademark, putting her on the address side of the postcards he published. This was in an era of fashion now largely ignored by students of pop culture, who see the world jumping from bustles and multiple petticoats to bobbed hair and short skirts, completely ignoring the idiosyncratic silhouette favored at the beginning of the twentieth century.
It was a sort of Art Nouveau figure, less adorned than the full Victorian habitude.
Until the lady turned sideways, of course. We have discussed Walter Wellman’s look at the bosoms of the 1910 era before. But to refresh your memory, you’re looking at fabric here. The bodice of the period called for a great deal of extra cloth which draped low, looser than the high-corseted form of the previous generation. Walter thought this was hilarious.
Though his ladies could dress in a tighter, more formal style as well.
Have I mentioned his sense of humor before this? Look closely. The lady has an arm around the finial of the gatepost and is not nearly as outgoing as she seems.
Let’s go to the beach to discuss the passing of years. Here is one of Walter’s bathing beauties around 1909.
And here we have moved into the Roaring Twenties, when women could dress in abbreviated clothing more appropriate to sporting pursuits. (Though they now aspired to a boyish silhouette even more slender than that of the belle of 1910.)
Walter was completely comfortable with the freer fashions, even if his male characters were sometimes stymied.
He completely reinvented his heroine as the 1930s came on, combining the more abbreviated costume with a return to curves. In fact, Walter took alarmingly to curves, finding them as entertaining as he had the dangling bosoms of the fashions of the earlier period.
His ladies, once so much taller than their prospective mates, were now more likely just wider.
And they knew what they wanted.
Postcard artists are hard to document, and I can’t find out exactly how long Walter Wellman produced his fashionable ladies, among all his other postcards. He may have done some work, as years went by, for companies that removed his indecipherable signature, which makes it more difficult. But he WAS still going strong during World War II.
As were the ladies, joining in the vengeful Axis-bashing.
If I learn more about Walter Wellman and whether his work was published on into the Fifties or whether he inspired imitators who did his kind of work when he himself was gone, I will let you know. But I’m sure we can all agree that his heroines, however they wore their hair and stockings, never came to an end.