Thursday, April 18, 2024

Virginia Ahrens’ sexy style captivates fresh crowd.

Digging through a Box of Late Grandmother’s Piano Music Uncovers Unexpected Legacy

Mindy Brancamp of Beloit, while going through a box of her late grandmother’s piano music, stumbled upon a plain folder. To her surprise, the folder contained “page after page of drawings of beautiful women in various fashions and lingerie,” mixed in with movie themes and show tunes. The discovery of her grandmother Virginia Ahrens’ artwork was a powerfully unexpected legacy.

A Glimpse into Ahrens’ Artwork

Brancamp describes the drawings in detail, noting the movement and flowing gowns depicted on the women. Some of the illustrations implied sexuality, while others made their intentions bluntly clear through titles or the names of the women portrayed. For example, a pair of drawings from 1934 depict two women holding hands, dressed in sheer, lacy shrugs and skirts, framing their naked breasts and torsos. The following day, Ahrens drew two naked dancers on a stage, labeling the drawing “Sallette and Salome, the Randall Sisters Fan Dance.” These drawings showcase the richly sensual fantasy life of a young Prairie du Chien housewife, who had no sanctioned venue for such artwork in the 1930s and ’40s.

A Unique Body of Work

The exhibition of Ahrens’ artwork, titled “Trop d’Amour” (“Too Much Love”), at the Portrait Society Gallery highlights the rarity and cultural significance of her drawings. Debra Brehmer, an art critic and historian, notes that few bodies of work like Ahrens’ exist. The simplicity of the pencil drawings belies their importance, as they offer evidence of women’s own thoughts about sex. Brehmer reached out to the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, known for its extensive collection of sex-related material, but they confirmed that they had nothing comparable to Ahrens’ drawings.

Ahrens’ Passion for Clothing

The drawings are not solely focused on the human figures; Ahrens also reveled in her descriptions of fabric and clothing. She experimented with various materials, envisioning the draping, pleating, and frills of different garments. Brancamp recalls that clothing was just as important to her grandmother as the women themselves. Ahrens’ drawings were likely influenced by fashion patterns found in Butterick, Vogue, and Simplicity, as well as newspaper fashion advertisements of the time. The drawings display a strong fantasy element, reflecting how Ahrens found solace in her creations during the economic restrictions of the Great Depression and World War II.

The Legacy of Ahrens’ Artwork

Although Ahrens’ drawings declined in volume after 1935, she continued drawing until 1947 while raising her two children. However, her solitude and her husband’s frequent business trips led her to dependence on alcohol. Eventually, she passed away at the age of 64 due to an alcohol-related fall that resulted in a head injury.

Mindy Brancamp discovered her grandmother’s drawings while taking an elective art class, and her instructor, Jay Salinas, encouraged her to exhibit the artwork. Supported by her mother, Donna, Brancamp showcased the drawings in multiple galleries and eventually met art critic Debra Brehmer, who recognized the significance of Ahrens’ work. Brancamp hopes to preserve and publish Ahrens’ drawings in a book dedicated to her mother’s memory.

Book Launch Event at Portrait Society Gallery

The Portrait Society Gallery in Milwaukee will host a book launch event for “Trop d’Amour” by Virginia Ahrens on August 4th. The exhibition and limited edition catalog capture the essence of Ahrens’ legacy as an artist. Brancamp and Brehmer collaborated on the book, which includes an introduction by Brancamp and an essay by Brehmer.

If interested, you can attend the book launch celebration at the Portrait Society Gallery on August 4th from 4 to 6 p.m.


About Brynn Carlson

Brynn Carlson is a fashion and beauty blogger with a passion for all things stylish and glamorous. She covers fashion, clothing, haircare, beauty, makeup, and skincare. With a keen eye for detail and a love for experimenting with new styles and products, Brynn offers valuable insights and tips to help her readers look and feel their best. Follow her and discover the latest trends, products, and techniques to enhance your beauty and style!

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