By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Oct 09, 2002 at 5:25 AM

"I confess. When I model, I feel beautiful," writes Pegi Taylor in her essay, "A View from the Platform."

Taylor is a freelance writer, performance artist and a nude --or "art" -- model. Not a pin-up girl or the star of a series of adult videos, rather a self-described "Plain Jane" who, every week, walks into a classroom filled with artists, removes her clothing and poses for three hours while students sketch her hair, muscles, limbs and, well, everything else.

It isn't something she does for the money; the average pay for an art model is $10 an hour. Instead, modeling once helped Taylor heal wounds, and today, she sculpts her real-life art modeling experiences into essays and avant garde performance art pieces.

For many of us, public nudity is a line we will never cross, yet we cannot help being just a little bit curious about those who do.

OMC: When and why did you start modeling?

PT: I started modeling in 1980. I was pregnant, and if I hadn't been pregnant, I never would've thought of it. I was a prudish bookseller (Taylor was co-owner of Webster's Books on Downer Avenue) I went to an art show of an acquaintance's wife, and I saw a little cluster of pen and ink nudes and I wanted a picture like that of me, so I approached the artist, and she was eager to have a pregnant model. I modeled in her home studio, and it was a lovely introduction to modeling, very warm and supportive.

OMC: Elaborate on how being pregnant affected your decision to model nude.

PT: Being pregnant made me feel like I didn't matter anymore. I felt like a bottle with a message inside, and the message was what mattered. I had given myself up to the pregnancy, and I wasn't as shy. And as an anthropologist, I felt like a part of the evolutionary tree. It made me feel much more open.

OMC: You went from posing nude for an artist to working professionally as an art model. That's a big leap. How did that happen?

PT: In 1990, my husband left. I simply needed to see myself. I had been married for 12 years and I had no idea who I was. Modeling has been incredibly healing.

OMC: What else do you get from modeling?

PT: It's incredibly meditative. It's great to be with me for three hours. I am just there. Just there. That's fabulous.

Modeling has helped me in other ways, too. I was assaulted right before I turned 15. The fellow happened to be an African American. I did a lot to try to heal. I read "Soul On Ice" and narratives by African-American males because I didn't want to become hateful and have this fear based on my experience.

Anyway, I walked into UWM for a modeling session, and I saw this guy down the hall. He was African-American, and I realized we were modeling together. When two people model together, sometimes they don't touch, but we did, and it gave me this feeling of incredible comfort. This model -- his name is Michael -- healed me. He helped me overcome my anxiety that I was prejudice. I'm not saying I'm a completely unprejudiced person, but Mike took me to a new realm of how to safely be with another person.

OMC: Where do you model?

PT: I model at MIAD, UWM and Carroll College. I try to limit it to places that are close by. I have modeled in the past at Cardinal Stritch, Alverno and for informal groups and individual artists.

OMC: How long is a modeling session, and do you get breaks?

PT: The average modeling time is three hours and yes, you get breaks. On the East Coast, models get breaks every half-hour, but in the Midwest it's more like every 50 minutes. Standing is the most demanding pose, so it's nice to get a break every half hour when doing a standing pose.

OMC: How long do you hold each pose?

PT: It really ranges. You could hold the same pose for three hours, in which case all you're doing is surviving. Often instructors ask you to do a series of poses, from one minute to five minutes to 15 minutes or 20 minutes, all the way up to 50 minute poses. If I'm taking a pose for one minute, I'm able to do things like an extreme body twist or leave a limb out unsupported. You can't do this for too long (holding arm out in front of body) because of gravity.

PMC: How much do art models get paid?

PT: Not much. About $10 an hour. Between 1980 and 2002, the rate has only increased from $8 to $10 an hour.

OMC: The first time you modeled in front of a class, were you nervous?

PT: At that point, I had a real attitude. My husband had just walked out, and what I liked about modeling was that the artists had to deal with me. That was really satisfying. I was in their face. I don't think that was visible, and my feelings eventually settled down, but initially, I had this "F--- you, you're gonna look at me" attitude.

OMC: Is there anything sexual about art modeling?

PT: No, but if you did a poll among men and woman, and asked them "What's the first thing you think of when you hear the word 'nude?'" Most would say something to do with sex. It's really too bad that nudity and sex have become so intertwined.

OMC: You modeled with Dick Bacon. What was that like?

PT: Dick was a lousy model. He was a really great guy and a sweetheart, but totally self-absorbed. What really mattered to Dick was being nude -- he was a naturist -- but to be a decent art model, you have to really think about what people are seeing. I know Dick was Mr. Nude America, and he had this schtick going, but Dick was not an inspiring model. I'm not telling you I am an inspiring model, but I want to be.

OMC: What do you do to improve?

PT: I make a lot of sketches of people and portraits I see. I saw somebody like this (sitting with legs splayed out, knees touching and toes pointed in) and I thought "Wow. That's fun. What can I do with this?"

OMC: What skills do you need to be an art model?

PT: You have to be able to hold a pose for a long period of time, and the more flexible you are the better.

OMC: Do you see any similarities between fashion and art modeling?

PT: Absolutely not. I could never be a fashion model. It's a totally different frame of reference. Some artists would say that drawing "attractive" models is boring. What's there to look at? One of the beautiful aspects of art modeling in that whatever goes wrong with me -- whether I lost a breast or get a lot of wrinkles -- the more my value as an art model goes up. It's a lifetime profession.

Once, a woman asked me if I eat before I model, because it might make my stomach bigger. I had never thought about this, and it is totally irrelevant to what I do.

OMC: Tell me about the special outfits you wear to and from art modeling gigs.

PT: I started wearing the outfits in 1999. I met another art model who believed art models were performance artists. Initially I poo-pooed the idea, but then I began to feel that I was a performance artist. So I went to a costumer at the Skylight Opera Theatre. I had seen a picture of a 19th Century French infantry soldier overcoat with a straight skirt underneath and I wanted to wear that before and after modeling. Having an outfit helps me to perceive myself as a performance artist, and to prepare holistically for what I want to do when I model.

OMC: Do you ever get bored while modeling?

PT: Yeah. Doing performance art has helped me. Now, during long poses I go over the text in my head. Sometimes it's frustrating, because I think of something and wonder if I'll be able to remember it until the break. As a writer, description has always been hard for me, and when modeling I can look at people and think about what I would write if I was going to describe them.

OMC: Have you ever fallen asleep?

PT: No, I've never slept during a pose, but I've seen others fall asleep. I've had moments when I've started to nod off.

OMC: Sorry, but I have to ask this: Have you ever passed gas while modeling?

PT: Absolutely. (Laughing) I try to be careful what I eat on modeling days.

OMC: What's it like seeing so many nude drawings of yourself?

PT: People who haven't done a lot of drawing usually project their own physicality onto me. But I try not to watch people draw. I don't make eye contact, either. I usually look out the window. I feel the artists are much more vulnerable than I am. But sometimes, people want to show me their work after class, and that's fine, and I do have a couple of student drawings. {INSERT_RELATED}

OMC: Tell me about your upcoming show, and what lead up to it.

PT: The past 22 years as an art model have given me a particular point of view that allows me to speak from a vantage point most people don't have. A lot of people are very disassociated from their bodies. They don't look in the mirror other than to see if their make up's on right, but I have this experience at least once a week that allows me to be really attached and has given me a certain perspective.

Anyway, the show is called "Full View," and it's a 50-minute performance piece. It's about my experiences as an art model.

It's pretty remarkable that I am doing this show at the Haggerty Museum. The museum has been known in the past for being fairly straight-laced, but Lynne Shumow, curator of education and community outreach at the Haggerty, arranged for me to appear. She works in progressive ways to make the visual arts come alive for people.

"Full View" overlaps and intertwines the voices of models and artists to explore identity, gender, art and religion. The show will take place Tues., Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Haggerty Museum of Art. Call (414) 288-5915 for more information. This performance is free and contains nudity.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.