Pin-Ups 101


Vintage pin-up art is making a comeback. Today there is an obsession within pop culture with merchandise featuring images of pin-up models of the past like Bettie Page and Jayne Mansfield. Their images are everywhere you look in stores like Hot Topic and on e-bay: posters, postcards, t-shirts, cigarette lighters, action figures and playing cards .

It is possible that the resurgence of such "cheesecake" artwork is a nostalgic attempt to reclaim some of the "innocence" of the pin-up past. Much of the contemporary pin-up artwork that is being created today involves more nudity and graphic poses, while that of the 40s and 50s involved models that were at least scantily clad posed to look demure or frisky.

Much of the pin-up art of the 40s and 50s was mass produced from paintings rather than photographs. While this may have led to more artistic freedom, it also caused the many models' features to be significantly altered. You can still find the artwork of Alberto Vargas, Russ Meyer, Archie Dickens, Peter Driben, and Earl MacPherson, but almost all of the models who worked with them have fallen into obscurity. Why?

Pin-up art in the 40s was particularly popular among the men in the American military. It was encouraged somewhat by the government as a way to sustain morale while the troops were overseas. The production and distribution of pin-ups were justified by "patriotic" intentions. Thus, most of the artists creating pin-up images and all of the targeted consumer group were men.

Pin-up models were a dime-a-dozen in the 40s and 50s. Beautiful, talented young women with dreams of Hollywood and the life of a movie star almost always began their careers with modeling. Even those who succeeded and moved on to make films were dropped by their managers as soon as a younger, fresher face arrived (which never took long).

One thing about pin-up art has not changed: the artwork is about the artist (almost always a man) and not the “object” (in the case of pin-up art, a woman). When you're looking for information about pin-up models, you are almost always more likely to find biographical information about the photographer or painter who recorded the image than about the actual model.

Who were the women in these images? They had (have) lives, careers, dreams and accomplishments, all of which have been, for the most part, forgotten (or maybe even never known).
This pathfinder is an attempt to shed light on some of the forgotten cheesecake talent of the past as well as provide some insight to the world of pin-up artwork today. It should be useful to anyone interested in popular culture and the sudden resurgence of vintage pin-up art, as well as those seeking a more feminist viewpoint from which to study it. While there are plenty of websites out there that offer hundreds of well-organized good-quality images, few dig below the surface of the pretty pictures into the concepts behind pin-up art. This site takes a different approach to the topic in that most of the emphasis is on finding information about the models.

This is a non-commercial, personal website and is to be used for educational or research purposes only. "Fair use" is claimed under U.S. copyright law, sections 107 and 108. No commercial use of these images is permitted without the consent of copyright holders.

*The images in the banner above include artwork by Archie Dickens, Pearl Frush, an image of Bettie Page, and Peter Driben.
All images (except that of Page) came from
Image of Bettie Page came from

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