Views / Backstage Pass London

Strong women: a story of pantyhose and pinups

Going through her grandmother’s scrapbook last year, Paddy Jane made an incredible discovery.

Her grandmother, Paddy Browne, had not only been an actress, but also a radio host, pinup model and cabaret host.

“It was the strangest thing. It was like I’d somehow become my grandmother without even knowing who she was,” says Jane, who for the past seven years has been exploring turn-of-the-century boudoir, pinups, speakeasies and strong women through her photography.

Her work will be shown as part of the exhibition Women, Freedom and Hosiery, opening Saturday in the D.B. Weldon Library’s Spencer Gallery at Western University.

“This show actually means a great deal on a personal level,” says Jane, host of the Toronto radio show Sex, Outlaws & Rock ’n’ Roll and an occasional burlesque dancer. “I get tears when I think about it too much.”

Women, Freedom and Hosiery celebrates strong women who showed a sexual identity regardless of social norms at the time, explains curator Jennifer Fraser.

During the first half of the 20th century, women displaying so-called “immoral” behaviour could be incarcerated under the Female Refuges Act of Ontario and forced to work in hosiery mills.

“My grandmother’s life embodies the spirit of Women, Freedom and Hosiery,” Jane says.

“When women were told their place was in the kitchen, she was travelling across Europe performing for the troops. When women were being told to not speak until spoken to, she was broadcasting on the radio.”

Born in London, England, Paddy Browne moved to Canada and started a theatre company in Chatham mid-century and volunteered at the local community centre teaching drama to children. She died in 1993.

A glass display case in the Spencer Gallery includes some of her head shots and pinups, photos of her in pin curls on the radio, and a program from when she performed at The Windmill Theatre in London, England.

For the first, and probably only time, Jane and her grandmother’s pinup portraits are being featured side by side.

Jane is also showcasing a series of turn-of-the-century pinups that embody strength, poise and independence even in various states of undress.

“The best sexy has mystery, and I love to set imaginations on fire,” says Jane.

Photographers Dana Brushette (London) and Ana Cop (Toronto) will also be showing retro-inspired pinup images.

On until June 30, the exhibition also features paintings by Kerstin Maciuk.

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