Who were the Aero Girls? An Art and Social History Project

Aero Advert_1955_ By permission of Nestlé UK

In October 2013 our National Archives Trainees Kerstin Doble and Francesca Taylor initiated an art and social history project called Who were the Aero Girls?

The research project aims to widen the use of our lesser known art and business archives by inviting all people across York, the UK and beyond to help unearth new information about a collection of Rowntree's Archive paintings called the Aero Girls.

The project centres on a collection of 20 unresearched Rowntree's portraits, catalogued mysteriously as Aero Girls, and held here at the Borthwick Institute.

These painterly oil portraits of young women featured in striking national newspaper and early ITV advertising campaigns for Rowntree's Aero chocolate between 1950 and 1957.

Until we embarked upon this appeal for information, very little was known about the renowned painters and fascinating sitters, or the bohemian 1950s backdrop to this unusual collection of commercial artworks.

Our national quest to uncover new information about the enigmatic portraits was launched during National Chocolate Week 2013 with an exhibition at York Mansion House sponsored by Aero chocolate and supported by the University of York, The National Archives' Opening Up Archives scheme and Heritage Lottery Fund.

Aero chocolate is still made in York to this day by Nestlé, who took over Rowntree's in the late 1980s and hold their own archive collections at the historic Haxby Road factory site.

We have worked closely with the Nestle Archive, making additional missing paintings from the Aero Girls campaign available to be publicly viewed for the first time since leaving the factory during 1990s.

The incredible response we received from the local community here in York, the 'chocolate city', has enabled us to build up a much clearer picture of the factory context in which these paintings have been previously seen.

Local and national news coverage

Working with The Times, BBC Radio York, the York Press and coverage in the Yorkshire Post also helped to spread the word about the campaign nationally.

We were delighted to work collaboratively with the Channel 4 news team, following up existing leads with arts reporter Katie Razzall and promoting our archive collections nationally.

Watch the Channel 4 footage featuring mystery Aero Girls Pamela Synge, Myrtle Crawford as well as artist Frederick Deane.

 Further information

For updates on our "Who were the Aero Girls?" detective work, stay tuned to the Borthwick Blog.

Information is also available about the exhibition, which ran from 12 to 20 October 2013.