April 2, 2020

Preserving Nudist History: An Interview with NaturistVintage - Part One

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Matthew McDermott
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Although the twitter account has been active less than four months, @NaturistVintage is already very popular, with over 5,000 followers. NaturistVintage concentrates on posting scans of nudist magazines and photographs, mostly from the 1960s and earlier.

Certainly the parade of naked women, even if they're usually in grainy black and white images, is the reason for much of the account’s popularity. But the owner of the account, who I’ll call NV here, often does more than just put up photos of pretty nude women.

Instead, NV is interested in documenting the modern history of naturism in North America. Often NV will post a series of photos of a single model, or on a certain theme. Many of the personages who shaped the early views of naturism in the public and in the naturist community are highlighted. And NV is actively researching the context around the images as well, often posting new findings in threads as they come to light.

I reached out to NV to ask about the account’s purpose, and to learn more about the person behind the account. My first questions, and NV’s answers, are below.


Tell me about your interest in nudity. Are you yourself a nudist? If so, how long have you been a nudist, and how did you come to adopt the nudist life?

Yes, I am a nudist, though I’m still getting used to saying that out loud. I’ve only been exploring social nudity for less than one year. I am a cottontail by the standards of some nudists, although I’m proud to say I have lost the tan lines.

I discovered nudism through research, naturally. In fact, this whole Twitter documentary project started first as a search into my own ancestry. My great great grandfather was a prominent American nudist in the 1940s and 50s named Rudolph Johnson. He started a group on his own land in rural Washington state in 1946 called the Cobblestone Suntanners, then went on to co-found the Northwest Sunbathing Association a year later. In 1950 he became president of the American Sunbathing Association (the ASA—now known as AANR), during a very tumultuous time in that association’s history.

Rudolph Johnson (personal photo)

I grew up with photo albums and tall tales of “Rudy the Nudie” all my life. When I was about thirteen, I spent a summer living on his land (which at the time was still owned by my grandmother) along with a cousin who was about my age. This cousin and I spent the summer fishing, catching frogs, and skinny dipping in the river that ran through the property. Looking back, it was easily one of the happiest summers of my young life, and since then I have always had a fascination with my great great grandfather, and a curiosity about nudism as a result. Growing up, I proudly told others of Rudolph and his nudist legacy, often to strange looks and mixed commentary.

It wasn’t until I became a father last year, and my own father survived a major heart attack a few months later, that suddenly collecting and preserving this heritage took on a new personal urgency and importance for me. I began seeking out any information on Rudolph that I could find, and subsequently discovered that he frequently contributed to old nudist magazines such as Sunshine & Health and American Nudist Leader. Many of these magazines contained photos of him, and some even had his writing. Reading these old magazines, it wasn’t long before my fascination with Rudolph blossomed into a fascination with the nudist movement of the mid 20th century.

Rabidly consuming this history, I eventually found the Western Nudist Research Library on the grounds of Glen Eden Sun Club, about an hour from where I live. I made the drive down and met the late Richard Hirst, a founder of the WNRL. He gave me a full tour of Glen Eden on his golf cart. Incidentally, it was the day of one of their biggest annual summer events, “Nudestock”. There were families and people of all ages jamming out naked to a live band. With that my interest was sufficiently piqued. I came back just one week later with my wife and son and we stayed two days and nights without putting clothes on once. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Your posts of vintage naturist magazine scans get a lot of attention on twitter. Tell me about the collection of magazines you’re scanning. Do you own these? How long have you been collecting them? How do you go about acquiring them? Do you also find vintage photos online, or are these all scanned?

My approach has always been to document and educate (hopefully). I try to share what I learn, and include sources wherever possible. I’ve scanned a good portion of what I share myself. I find some of the content online. I’ve also bought dozens of magazines, books, and films through sites like Abe Books, Ebay, Amazon, or boutique sellers like Alta Glamour or Something Weird (two personal favorites out of Seattle). Nearly all of the content I share has been previously published in some form, and much of the physical material I've acquired gets ultimately donated to a research library.

I would not be able to do my research without the four American nudist libraries. These libraries are doing important work to preserve nudism’s history, which is in some danger of being lost to time otherwise. Since discovering the Western Nudist Research Library, I have become involved as a volunteer and now sit on the board. I have yet to visit the American Nudist Research Library in Florida in person, but they’ve been extremely helpful to my research remotely. They’re also an excellent resource for old nudist magazines; they sell their surplus copies for a reasonable donation.

In addition to these two entities, there’s also the Naturist Education Foundation Research Library in OshKosh, WI, and the AANR-NW Library Archive at Willamettans in Eugene, OR. These four separate libraries are even collaborating, on a voluntary basis, to digitize and share their collections together on the cloud, both for preservation and to make the material available to researchers of the future. It’s an impressive and ambitious effort, and it is very much in need of support.

How do you choose the themes you post? For example, you recently had a series on Diane Webber. How do you decide on your themes, and what are you hoping to achieve with them?

In general, I share what I’m learning. The primary condition is that it must be related to the history of nudism in some way, beyond just nudity or nakedness. I love the shared humanity of the people participating in this weird, social lifestyle together. There’s something both vulnerable and strong about a person who chooses to go as they are without cover. I believe that one of the best things that nudism has to offer society is a stronger sense of body acceptance and self love. I think it can have effective therapeutic results. I try to share bodies of all ages and sizes for that reason, not just pinup models.

Diane Webber is a great example of an exception that proves the rule. She, obviously, was literally a pinup model. She was also easily one of the most famous nudists ever. Plainly, she was an icon and a sex symbol.

What I tried to emphasize by sharing the wide variety of her work in one thread, was how prolific she also was as an artist and human. She was in films and television, featured on the covers of magazines and advertisements, and worked with acclaimed photographers and directors. I’ve seen her called the most photographed person in the world. I personally question the truth of that, but she was easily the most photographed nudist in the world. Everyone knows the hits; not as many people know the b-sides. So my goal was just to connect some of those dots.


Part Two of my discussion with NaturistVintage is now published! Check it out here!

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[…] Read further at Write Nude […]

Quiet Voice

I had no idea there were such things as nudist libraries!

[…] you’ll find the conclusion of my interview with NV (see here if you missed the first […]

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