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Who's That Girl? Investigating The York Aero Girls Mystery

Aero Advert_1956_With kind permission of Nestlé UK 1

6:01am 6th October 2013

Researchers from the University of York’s Borthwick Institute for Archives are calling upon the public to help them solve a mystery – who are the women featured in a collection of 1950s portraits known as the Aero Girls?

Commissioned by Rowntree for use in Aero chocolate advertising from 1951-1957, the figurative paintings are called Anna, Alice, Wendy, The Country Girl, The Art Student – but are these fictitious characters or real women?

To help unravel the Aero Girls mystery and unearth new information about these little-known paintings, the researchers are holding an exhibition at York’s Mansion House from 12 to 20 October.

Part of Chocolate Week 2013, the exhibition “Who Were the Aero Girls? Discovering Hidden Art in the Archives” will offer a rare glimpse into Rowntree’s 1950s portrait collection – which goes on show for the first time since it left the Rowntree factory in York.

The exhibition, which includes 16 Aero Girl paintings, has been organised by Borthwick Institute researchers Kerstin Doble and Francesca Taylor, and is supported by Aero.

Kerstin Doble said: “We hope that the exhibition will help to uncover new stories about these enigmatic portraits and will help us to answer questions such as who were the Aero Girls and what happened to the paintings that are missing from this collection?”

Francesca Taylor added: “Visitors to the Mansion House will be encouraged to share their own stories, to ask new questions and continue the research at the Borthwick Institute and beyond. If anyone was an Aero Girl or knows one, we’d love to hear from them.”

The exhibition will also explore why Rowntree decided to use painted images of women in their print and television campaigns long after photography had taken precedence. Artists Anthony Devas, Henry Marvell Carr, Vasco Lazzolo, Norman Hepple and Fleetwood Walker all took part in the campaign, and the show features a special focus on the only living artist, Frederick Dean.

The Rt Hon the Lord Mayor of York, Councillor Julie Gunnell, said: “I am really excited that the Aero Girls exhibition will be held in the Mansion House. It would be fantastic if we could find out more about them whilst they are on display. This is a free exhibition, so I hope that residents will come along during the opening hours and share their stories and memories.”

Aero chocolate is still made in York by Nestlé, who took over Rowntree in the late 1980s.

Nestlé archivist Alex Hutchinson said: "We're delighted that some of our old treasures are being shared with a wider audience. The Borthwick Institute does a great job of looking after parts of our archive and we’re really proud to work with them.”

The Borthwick Institute is one of the biggest repositories for archives outside London, and includes the archives of Rowntree and Terry’s.  The exhibition is part of a larger programme curated by the Borthwick Institute for Archives under the banner of ‘Opening Up Archives’.

“Who were the Aero Girls? Discovering Hidden Art in the Archives” will take place at the Mansion House, St Helen’s Square, York from Saturday 12 to Sunday 20 October, from 11am to 4pm daily (closed Tuesday, 15 October). Admission is free.

If you were an Aero Girl, or if you know one, contact Borthwick Institute for Archives at whoweretheaerogirls@gmail.com or phone +44 (0)1904 321166.

You can follow their progress at  latest blog on The National Archives website as well a link to the Borthwick Institute blog site.


Aero Advert (date unknown). With kind permission of Nestlé.          

Aero Advert (date unknown). With kind permission of Nestlé.     Aero Advert 1957. With kind permission of Nestlé.

Aero Advert 1955. With kind permission of Nestlé UK.          Aero Advert 1955. With kind permission of Nestlé UK.

Aero Advert 1955. With kind permission of Nestlé UK.             Aero Advert 1956. With kind permission of Nestlé UK.

Aero advert, 1952. Copyright Nestlé.      Aero Girl Frederick Deane_Untitled_c.1950_Oil on canvas_20x16inches_Copyright Nestlé UK-10

Aero advert, 1952. Copyright Nestlé.                                     Aero Girl Frederick Deane_Untitled_c.1950_Oil                                                                                                    on canvas_20x16inches_Copyright Nestlé UK-10     

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