Introduction by Kerstin Doble, Project Curator

Kerstin Doble, project curator
'Who were the Aero Girls?' is an art and social history project aiming to widen the understanding and use of the lesser-known art content of the Rowntree & Co. Ltd archive held at the Borthwick Institute for Archives. The project centres on a collection of 20 previously unresearched portraits of women, known as the 'Aero Girls', which featured in Aero chocolate advertising from 1950 to 1957. The public are invited to help unearth new information about this unique collection of commercial artwork.

How did the Aero Girls project begin?

Researchers Kerstin Doble and Francesca Taylor were fascinated by a series of portraits of young women commissioned for use in Aero chocolate advertising from 1950 to 1957, and now held in the Borthwick Institute's archive collection.

With scant information on the artists, and even fewer clues as to the identity of the sitters, they initiated a research project to uncover the stories behind the paintings. Their collaborative research has led them from the battlefields of the Second World War, through polite society in post-war London and the bohemian art world, to present-day celebrity, with plenty of surprises along the way.

Early successes included tracing the last living Aero artist, Arnhem veteran Frederick Deane, whose recollections provided the researchers with a number of new leads. Then, when their exhibition of the paintings at York's Mansion House in October 2013 caught the attention of the media, relatives of the painters and their sitters began to come forward with yet more valuable information.

This online resource shares their research into the Aero Girls paintings and the story so far.

The Aero Girls in a wider context

The social history project Who Were the Aero Girls? focuses on unearthing the stories of women who became the faces of Aero chocolate after World War II. In the process of identifying the female subjects, we have uncovered the histories of the artists commissioned to paint them. The resulting body of research, considered within the wider context of the Aero Girls collection, presents us with four key themes. Read more:

The Aero Girls in a wider context

About us

Kerstin Doble and Francesca Taylor were seconded from The National Archives as part of the Heritage Lottery funded Opening Up Archives programme, to work on interpretation and online engagement projects at the University of York's Borthwick Institute for Archives between April 2013 and March 2014.

From April to May 2014, as Project Curator for the Borthwick Institute, Kerstin synthesised the Aero Girls project research into written and digital content for this site.

Kerstin is an artist and curator. She has previously worked as the Art Installation Co-ordinator and Information Manager at Tate Modern. Francesca is an archaeologist by training and has worked at the Natural History Museum in London conserving bones from archaeological sites.

Kerstin said: “When we started the project, we were not even sure if the Aero Girls were real women. There is so much human interest behind these portraits - the stories we have collected touch on art, social history, fashion, the changing role of women, even the Profumo Affair.”

Francesca added: “We have been amazed at the stories that have come to light, and people have been very generous in helping us piece the puzzle together. Meeting Frederick Deane and several of the models from the paintings has really been an unexpected pleasure.”

Contact us

If you know anything about the Aero Girls paintings and adverts we would love to hear from you. Please get in touch with us via the contact us form.

With thanks to:

Frederick Deane, Rose Wylie, Henrietta Oxlade, Pamela Synge, Craig Hudson-Bennett, Justin De Meo, Barbara Pitt, Dr Ralph Kaner, David Lamb, Rhona Lanzon, Drusilla Gabbott, Sarah Gabbott, David Gabbott, Lady Emma Monson, Prosper Devas, Virginia Ironside, Angela van Nes, Mrs Jill Hepple, Victoria Goddard, Erika Cruttwell-Reade, Rupert Butler, Sarah Ellis, Christopher Judd, the Potter family, Ann Rose, David Rose, Mrs Joan Oldroyd, Margaret Barrett, John Barrett, Frances Fyfield, Mark Winter, Ann Winter, Patricia Page, Phil Page, Lynne Behennah, Rosina Bacharach, Laura Bacharach, Rory Mathieson, Toni Attenborough, Alexander Goldsmith, Alexandra Hutchinson, Stephen Town, Chris Webb, Sheila Robins, Rachel Davies, Paul Dryburgh, Julie Allinson, Paul Shields, Matthew Herring, Matthew Chan, Jenny Mitcham, Amanda Jones, Alison Fairburn, Charles Fonge, Catherine Dand, Jessica Stephens, Joanne Casey, Lord Mayor of York Julie Gunnell, Richard Politt, Fiona Young, Anne Platt, Victoria Hoyle, Sophie Jewett, Annabel Elton, Ann Glover, Rupert Maas, James Maxton, Christel Maurer, Caron Lett, Anna Doble, Rowland Thomas, Nanette van der Laan, Katie Razzall, Sue Howard, Megan McCooley, Graham Relton, Sandra Barrett, The National Archives, Heritage Lottery Fund, Nestlé Archive, Nestlé UK & Ireland, Yorkshire Film Archive, York Museums Trust, Channel 4 News, The Rowntree Society, History of Advertising Trust, Explore York, BBC Radio York, Mall Galleries, Big Sky Fine Art and an Aero Girl who wishes to remain anonymous.