A Toast To Olde Tymes – Winifred Wittmann Lunning
Winifred Wittmann Lunning turned heads in New York – and probably everywhere else she went – back in the 1930s. Long before fashion models were celebrated as superstars, she graced the pages of both Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. As the Kansas City Star described her in November 1936, “She is a tall blonde, rather pale, and had the courage to cut her hair in a square distinctive bob because she liked it that way.”
Winifred’s parents were originally from Lincoln, Nebraska. Beatrice Knox Billingley and Otto Wittmann were married in September 1906. (The name is spelled both as “Wittman” and “Wittmann” in publications. The Independent generally used “Wittmann” in earlier years, and that is what appears in obituaries for Winifred and her brother in the New York Times.) Beatrice’s father was a Civil War veteran and a lawyer. Otto’s father was a merchant, who specialized in harnesses and bicycles.
The young couple soon moved to Kansas City. Otto, Jr. was born in September 1911. Winifred’s birth occurred two years later. A younger sister died circa February 1918. More sadness was to follow that year with Beatrice’s death during the influenza epidemic.
Otto, Jr. would enjoy a long career as a museum director. Much of what is known about the childhood that he and Winifred shared comes from a series of interviews he recorded in later life with Richard Candida Smith for The Museum in the Creation of Community.
The family lived for some years at 3320 Coleman Road. Their father owned an auto parts business, which was successful enough that it had branches in several states. Otto sold the company after Beatrice’s death, because he wanted to spend more time with his children. He soon went into partnership with a friend, Gould F. Beach, in a similar business. Otto, Jr. had fond memories of Mrs. Watson, the housekeeper who was with the family for years. (Her first name was Beatrice. She was a widow, originally from Iowa, and the same age as his father.) Otto, Jr. and Winifred went to the nearby Norman School. Otto, Jr. was eventually sent to Country Day School (an all-male predecessor of The Pembroke Hill School) and Winifred to The Barstow School, which educated girls. In September 1928, Otto purchased a house at 1025 Huntington Road.
Otto, Jr., graduated from Harvard in 1933. He spent the early days of his career as the registrar and curator of prints at the Nelson Gallery of Art. Winifred, who was extremely studious in high school, spent several years at Radcliffe College, Harvard’s sister school.
After Winifred returned to Kansas City, a chance occurrence while she was studying painting and design led her to a new career path. According to the Kansas City Star, “Robert Mayes, head of costume design at the Kansas City Art Institute selected her from a group of students as an attractive figure for whom his class might design clothes.” Winifred traveled to Europe in the summer of 1935, and then went to New York to try her hand at modeling. In November 1936, the Star reported that in the current issue of Vogue, “Miss Wittmann poses in a ‘double spread’ fashion presentation of full length figures, one wearing a gold lamé gown and the other in an accordion pleated dress.” Vogue also pictured her in four different hats. Harper’s Bazaar, on the newsstands at the same time, had a full-page photo of her.
Toward the end of the 1930s, Winifred went to work for Macy’s in New York. She attended their training program and then spent a couple of years there, working as “a stylist in the dress department” and then “selecting shoe styles for women,” according to the Kansas City Star.
Three marriages marked the 1940s. Winifred married Just Lunning in September 1941. Just, who had both an undergraduate degree and a law degree from Harvard, was originally from Denmark. In 1924, his father, Frederik Lunning, had opened the Georg Jensen silver store on Fifth Avenue in New York. (The store was named for the renowned Danish silversmith and designer.) After a long period as a widower, Otto married Ethel Mary Anderson in August 1942. Margaret Hill, a Radcliffe graduate, was introduced to Otto, Jr. by Winifred. The two wed in June 1945. Margaret, Otto, Jr., and Just all served in the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, a precursor of the CIA), and Otto, Jr. was a Monuments Man.
Otto, Jr., worked for the Toledo Museum of Art from the late 1940s until his retirement as its director in the mid-1970s. He also was a trustee of the J. Paul Getty Trust, (as was Franklin D. Murphy, another former Kansas Citian). Otto, Jr. encouraged Winifred to donate photos from her modeling career to the Getty Museum. In the online collection, she appears in several photos by George Platt Lynes from 1937 and 1938, including “Portrait of Mrs. Lunning (with Cables),” “Portrait of Mrs. Lunning (with Glove),” and “Mrs. Lunning with Geometric Purse, New York.”
Featured in the October 15, 2022 issue of The Independent.
By Heather N. Paxton
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