January 24, 2000 07:51am
Women's Group Tries Nude Modeling
(SKIPTON, England) -- They were once known for making jam and knitting comfortable sweaters.
But now they're nude. And they're a hit.
After the husband of one member died of leukemia, the middle-aged ladies of Rylstone and District chapter of the Womens Institute - a British service group set up in 1915 - came up with a new way to raise money for research into the disease.
Reasoning that their annual calendars, featuring glowing sunsets and rose-covered country cottages, just weren't grabbing enough attention, they dared to pose nude for their 2000 offering.
The sendup of a garage mechanic's calendar - showing the ladies wearing little but pearls and hats - was an immediate hit at $8 each, and has raised $550,000.
Thousands of letters have poured in, many from middle-aged women saying the pictures have helped restore their self-esteem.
"We're in our 50s, and it doesn't bother us, and that seemed to come across," said Miss October, Tricia Stewart.
The calendar opens with Miss January, Beryl Banforth, 65-year-old retired secretary, chairing a meeting of members wearing only pearls and elegant hats, and ends with a group of members singing carols in Santa hats.
In between are 10 photos of members of the local branch - aged 45 to 60 - taking part in various homely pursuits, like cooking. Artfully placed knitting or cooking utensils avert undue embarrassment.
Miss July, 56-year-old painter Lynda Logan, said the group had been so shocked by the death from leukemia in July 1998 of John Baker, 54, "that we would have done anything to draw attention to the tragedy of his illness."
At the photo-shoot, the women overcame their shyness by imbibing generous quantities of red wine.
"We're all great friends so there was no embarrassment," said Miss May, 51-year-old nursing home manager Moyra Livesey.
"In fact, watching each other covering ourselves strategically with sieves and plants and apple presses and the like was tremendous fun."
Other groups have made similar calendars, including pro-hunting groups, farmers, Royal Air Force pilots, a fire brigade and a chefs.