Category Archives: 909 antics

After A FASHION

As I am photographing this for the blog I suddenly realize that I have an Eleanor Link piece of art. Sadly not original, but still a cherished treasure, she was such an icon.

“Jett, see what you can do with this.” My boss Gene South, or Geno as we all call him, has thrust a layout assignment into my hands. It’s my first week on the job. I have no idea what I’m doing but a quick study, I am rapidly learning the ropes. My two colleagues, Mark Burnett, Kay Wyland and I design print ad layouts for Miller & Rhoads Department Store in Richmond, Virginia. We work in a shared cubicle, one of many, on the seventh floor of the department store. Next week we’ll be moving down to the third floor because our department’s floor space is needed for the store’s new main frame computers, so everyone has told me not to get too settled.

The day is not over, I’ve finished my assignments so Geno grabs an upcoming but not immediate ad to keep me busy. Still so green but not wanting to show my ignorance, I forge ahead and create something I really like using the sparse instructions, showcase the store using a classic suit. Apparently Geno likes what I’ve done too because he tells me that he is going to use it and puts it into production a few days later. Eleanor Link, head fashion artist illustrates my design. I have landed on the back cover of the Richmond Symphony program! Later Geno even steps into my cubicle to show me the finished work. Praise from the normally taciturn boss. I’m legal.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you how I got this job. The year is 1966. I am graduating from Richmond Professional Institute (now VCU) with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Per mom’s suggestion I have completed courses in teaching, but as much as I love kids, my still fresh student teaching experience has left me with little interest in the field.

And so I try several advertising agencies that have posted on the bulletin board of the graphic arts department, an off limits territory for fine arts students. The unwritten rule is that art students bond with their kind and never cross the invisible barrier. When I attended our college reunion two years ago the drama students that were entertaining us told me that they had a curiosity question and then asked me if students between the disciplines mixed when we were in school.  I laughed and assured them that apparently some things never change.

So I ignore the unspoken ban because I love Richard Carlyon and sign up for one of his commercial art lectures. I don’t care, I’m a rebel. I barely manage a C in his class but who cares I’m walking the walk and loving it.

None of the jobs are panning out. It’s evident that I know nothing about commercial art design. I cannot even get a job with Richmond newspapers through Chick Lawson, a good friend of my grandfather’s. And he’s pretty high up in the pecking order. I move on. Miller & Rhoads is a thought. Mom worked in Junior Colony as a young bride and mother. Surely there’ll be some job opening. At this point anything will do. I’m graduating. I need a job. But HR has nothing to offer.

Then a dorm mate tells me about an opening she has heard about in the Advertising Department of Miller & Rhoads. She’s in fashion illustration. I like the idea although I know nothing really about advertising. But that’s not going to stop me. In my mind’s eye I determine that I need to be dressed to impress. Really dressed to impress.

I decide that I need a hat, modest heels, gloves, a subdued sheath, pearls, a handbag, and matching hose. (Forget pantyhose, they are not yet on the horizon.)  I borrow most. I’m an art student, this type of outfit is not in my wardrobe. I take the bus downtown to the store. I get dressed in my borrowed finery in the ladies room and head up to the seventh floor where the advertising offices are located.

I have no appointment. I open the door to the department and practically fall into the receptionist’s desk which is right inside the door jammed into a tiny hallway and bumped up against a cubicle. There are no offices. Everyone has a minute cubicle with half walls so that they can shout changes to each other rather than waste time walking. Well, the director, Ashton Mitchell, does have an office but only he. I swoon. It’s an art world made for me. I announce that I am here about the job. In one telling look the receptionist, Cabell Bricker, sizes up both me and my outfit. I immediately realize that I’m on shaky ground.

This outfit which seemed like such a great idea is clearly so far over the top that it’s absurd. But I don’t back down. I look her in the eye, pleading. To her credit she does not blink an eyelash or worse, send me packing. I actually think that I recognize her and she me from campus parties, but we don’t run in the same circles, so neither of us goes there. Still it’s a small notch in my belt.

She’s intrigued enough that she yells for the art director. He appears, takes one look at me, inhales and glances at Cabell. She’s stifling a laugh. He looks me up and down. I hold my breath. He makes his decision and invites me to step into his cubicle. I breath a sigh of relief and quickly follow, not daring to look at Cabell lest she burst out laughing and break the spell. Geno browses through my portfolio. It’s all fine art work; etchings, lithographs, drawings. There are no designs, no advertising, no fashion illustrations. Expecting a rejection, I am elated when he tells me to go home, design six full page fashion spreads and bring them in for him to review.

I practically dance my way back to the dorm. And then panic hits. I don’t know anything useful for this assignment. I draft Gail, the friend who told me about the job. She’s as clueless as I am. She’s in illustration not advertising layout. I plunge ahead, borrow some swipes (fashion art by other artists to be used as prompts or figure placement when creating) from Gail and create my designs. I have actually taken a night school course in advertising but the most I learn from that is that our professor drives his Aston Martin to school and is willing to break for beer at Andy’s to end class early.

I turn in the completed designs to Cabell. This time I am dressed more like my real self. She’s says they’ll be in touch. Days go by. I hear nothing. I’m getting worried. We, the twentysome girls that I live with, share a common phone. Anyone within range answers it and takes a message if need be. I pester everyone. Maybe I got a call and the message did not get logged into the book. I want this job. I need this job. It’s mine. I draw up another series of ads and take them in. I explain to Geno that I redo the work because I figure that I can do better than the first set and hand him the papers. These are big 18×24 sketches. He rifles through them and probably figures that he is never going to get rid of me. He gives me the job.

A gift box with illustrations. Pat can do this in a heartbeat but she acknowledges that it is before her time. We decide that it is one of Bertha’s masterpieces.

Epilogue: Miller & Rhoads Advertising Roll Call 60’s Era

Ashton Mitchell “Mitch”, director. Hard to find a nicer guy. And the staff party he and his lovely wife threw every year at their waterfront home in Powhatan was not to be missed.

Gene “Geno” South, art director. A talented man and could carry a joke but you best toe the line on the clock.

My later immediate boss when I became the solo regional ad layout department, Jasper, or Jack to us, Horne, regional director.

Cabell Bricker, receptionist. She later becomes a great friend.

Mark Burnett, Kay Wyland, Eileen Talley (replaced me when I became regional staff of one layout artist), Bobbie Hicks (brought on when they needed even more staff) layout artists. Grouped as one because unlike everyone else who had their own, save production, we shared a cubicle. I did get my own cubicle when I was shifted to regional ads.

Pat Cully, illustrator. Our cubicles were next to each other, across the arms length hallway. I bought my first car from Pat & her husband Don (that’s a future blog post).

Sandy Crews (Rhodes), illustrator. I introduce her to Hank and they later marry. Hank and I date briefly but, as nice as he is, the vibes aren’t there. So one Saturday when he shows up at my apartment unannounced to encourage me to go on a day outing to Williamsburg I defer. But rather than send him off dejected I suggest that he take Sandy, who lives nearby.  I call her and she agrees. They hit it off and become a couple. I’m a matchmaker.

Eleanor Link, high fashion illustrator. She would get sent by train to NYC at the store’s expense, probably for fashion week. As beautiful and timeless as her illustrations were you will never see a navel on an exposed abdomen. Not allowed. I asked her about that once. She told me that the edict came from the 6th floor executive offices.

Bertha Morrissey, fashion illustrator.

Charlotte Saunders, head copywriter and a brilliant woman.

Sarah Gayle Hunter, copy writer who was fuller than life, you always heard her coming.

Bobbie Lynch, copywriter.

Betsy Drake (Allred), copy writer and good friend who matched up with a Latter Day Saints missionary from out west and followed him home to become his wife.

Tuppy Giasi, copywriter. Hank Rhodes was in the army with her husband Billy. I was Hank’s first blind date in our crowd.

Lester Woody, copywriter.

Jackie Blair, regional copy writer either St Catherine’s or St Mary’s background.

Lynn Weakley and Len White, production.

Sherrie Edwards Oliva, proof runner. I got her this job when prior runner, Becky, got married. Sherrie and I share many live adventure stories including the wedding dress one. It was always exciting to tag along with Sherrie to the executive offices. They were so solemn looking and we never saw anyone around.

 

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Well Deserved Mr Tambourine Man

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I was there. He mesmerized me. I’d even say it changed my life. I could do anything. Be anything that I wanted to be. It was liberating.

Today my man Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize for literature. Well deserved Mr Tambourine Man, well deserved. I never met Dylan. But I still have an awesome story about how we came to ride the winds of time together.

The year is 1966. I am just into my last semester as a fine arts student at what was then RPI, now VCU, located in Richmond, Virginia. A division of William & Mary, RPI was a campus cobbled together in the fan district, the part of town where streets fanned out from the centrally located departments stores and town churches to meet the suburbs. School was composed of maybe four actual classroom buildings to include a three story gym with the art department being housed on the third floor. All other classes were held where ever a spot could be found. Mostly carriage houses or old homes.

Campus population was roughly half day students and half boarding, save a separate count of night school students who were mostly professionals adding onto their degrees. Those of us that lived on campus, found ourselves housed in former richly appointed homes. My dorm was the Bocock House on Franklin Street. I was one of its first inhabitants. Mrs Bocock had just opened the second floor of the front half of the house to the college. There were thirteen of us. By the time I graduated our numbers had increased to about twice that size since third floor rooms were added to the mix.

My first room was a corner room (they were huge) and overlooked the formal garden. My second room had hand painted French wall paper that used to drive us insane after a night of drinking. Red, white & blue plumes that danced freely for you. This room was in the middle of the second floor rooms (all the rest were corner rooms) and was actually a sitting room and thus very small compared to the others. Each room had its own bathroom complete with European water closet and claw footed bathtub. We had walk in, and walk through to the adjoining room, closets. Our room had its own small balcony, very Juliet like.

All of this narrative is to set the scene for RPI stories to follow in various posts. It was the sixties, women had curfews and were not allowed to wear pants on campus. I had to wear a raincoat over my bibs to and from art classes to avoid a call to the dean of women’s office. I later got one but that is another story and for another reason.

The day of the Dylan concert I was hanging out at Andy’s on Grace Street, the favored watering hole of business students. I was told recently by a fellow student that art students just did not go to Andy’s. I really was not aware of this pecking order at the time. He explained that art students were not cool enough, or maybe too cool, but they gathered elsewhere. Since my roomie was a retailing major and I dated among her crowd I had a free pass to be among the elite. It was there that my drinking buddy (his gal pal was at home in Georgia birthing their college romance son, no pregnant gals allowed on campus in the sixties) said he had free tickets compliments of a friend that worked in the box office of the Mosque to a nifty concert and would I like to go. He promised it would rock my world. The Mosque was close to campus and appears as it sounds, very big, very ornate and very impressive. All campus dances were held in the lower level ballroom. Another story.

I accept his proposal and we part to prep for our date. When he picked me up, he tells me we can get better tickets than the balcony ones he has. We stop at the box office and trade our second balcony tickets in for front row, first balcony. He explains who I am about to see. I know a little about Dylan. A dorm mate had some of his albums, I thought them rough. The house is not packed and at that it is mostly older folks, I did not see anyone from campus. What kind of concert is this going to be?

Then this skinny guy walks out on the stage of this massive place with its elegant side box seats, ornately domed ceiling and layers of velvet curtains. He sits down in a straight back chair set center stage. That’s it. Well, okay a mic, on a stand. But nothing else on that huge stage. Just the man, the guitar, the chair and the mic. He warms up for a minute, probably even smoking a cigarette. And then it begins. I fall in love, He is mesmerizing. A moment in time to treasure. I am a lucky gal.

 

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The Girls of 909 West Franklin St

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Sandy in front of 909 standing under our balcony room.

Current VCU campus rumor has it that we were hand picked by Mrs Bocock to live at 909. When we are told this at our reunion dinner we all laugh. The unspoken thought that floats through each of our minds is, “Hand picked? Cannot imagine how I got on that list.”

Elisabeth Holmes Bocock is a force of nature. She lives as a widow in her parents antebellum home on W Franklin Street in Richmond. The house was then in the heart of the VCU RPI campus. Good friends with school president, Dr Oliver who resides across the street with his lovely wife in his own mansion, she graciously offers the upstairs front rooms of her house (she lives in the back section) to the school for their use. Dorm space is needed and so the rooms are outfitted for a handful of girls. I am one of the first thirteen girls to live in this mansion. Previously I have been offered a single room in another dorm house on Park Avenue but turn it down as being too cramped and small.

I have already done the cramped room tour with incompatible roommates my freshman year at Miami in Ohio. Never again. Besides, I am living in my grandmother’s home at 6416 Three Chopt Road in the west end. I share a room, a big room, with my 5th grade cousin. We are well suited roomies. I am in no hurry to move. My uncle might have been in a hurry for me to move as I play my Beatles album over and over and over and over again. That was when it and they were new. I still have it.beatles

I learn at the reunion that 909 was closed as a dorm the year after I graduate. Sandy has to move to Monroe Terrace, a high rise old apartment building turned into dorm rooms, and is miserable. She gets an apartment as fast as she can.

Such a small window of time to experience the splendid glory of life at 909. We know we have it good. But we are in college, a lot escapes our radar. During the reunion dinner held in our old dorm, now a school culture center, we marvel at all the beauty we missed or so took for granted that we barely saw it.

When Frances (Bolton Wilkins) calls to suggest gathering at the reunion can be fun, I stall. Could be fun but an entire weekend. Sandy stalls too. Then we chat and agree to go together. We laugh at the fact that her picture is in the middle of the photo montage used for every segment of publicity for the reunion. She is on all the mailing material. She is on the website. She is everywhere. But that is typical Sandy. She never seeks attention. It comes to her.

Frances is delighted that we are committing. She has a bevy of other 909/RPI girls signing up too including Barbara (Buskell Davison) who rooms with Sandy and Alicia after I graduate. That is after we stealthily move all of her belongings from her other dorm to our room because we know that she needs to be a 909 gal. It’ll be a grand party. I email the amazing worker bee Diane Stout-Brown that has put everything together to thank her for all her hard work and add that she will have a contingency of former 909 residents at the dinner. It is a grand evening. Well, until Barbara provides the requisite gal reunion drama by unintentionally leaving her purse in our now locked room upstairs. Chris has left with the only keys. Diane works her magic and the drama is short lived. Just a token 909 antic.

our room door   bathroomwatercloset909 bathroomsandy and chris   balconyfive of usentertainmentdorm dome   purse searchsingserenade

When we arrive at the dinner I introduce myself to Diane and she says to stay put. She has a surprise for me. She comes back with a guy and introduces me/us to him. He is Chris Ritrievi, Senior Associate Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations and has keys to the offices, his included, on the roped off second floor. He begs us to disregard his office mess and leads us upstairs. We are having our own private tour! We are a group of about ten plus a few that get wind of what is happening and join us.

Up the beautiful splint staircase we clamor (there was no carpeting in our day). Chris opens the first door. It’s my original room. It’s much smaller now because when they put in a spiral staircase to the third floor (more rooms for girls) for a fire code second exit it took part of this room. Frances and Maureen live here after I move across the hall. Chris cannot show us the adjoining bathroom (because it it out of commission) where we used to climb out the window and sunbath on the roof. That is until we got in trouble with the Dean of Women. But Mrs Bocock tells her that it is fine and we resume our golden disk worship.

The next room, Chris’ office, is a huge corner affair. None of us spend much time here. The girls are on a different focus from us. All the rooms adjoin via interior doors. Our room is next door through a small inner connecting hall. To one side of the tiny hall is a shared bathroom that we pretty much claim as our own. Those corner girls can share the other bathroom. It’s just as it was then. The water closet. The big tub. Sandy and I both remember it as a claw foot. It’s not but it is deep with one of those tall porcelain shaft stoppers. (My grandmother’s are exactly the same.) “No shower?” someone asks. Nope. “How did you wash your hair?” Probably stuck our head in the running water of the tub.

And then we step through the doorway into our room. We know the French hand painted wall paper went years ago. But the room is just as we recall it. The balcony. The twist and turn secret passage like closet with a door in our room, in the tiny hall and in the adjoining the room we just left. Totally occupied by those corner room girls. We settle for metal free standing things the college gives us. I change to this room that second year because Betsy, the girl already in the balcony room, and I are good friends plus my roommate Jane (Winters Wise) is leaving school at the end of the semester. Mary Ann Sturgis (Nassawadox native ferry ride and all) has already left midterm.

Enter roommate number three, Sandy, a freshman. I get a letter from her that summer naming all the things we have in common. Our names. Sandra Lee and Sandra Leigh. Our home towns. Rockwell and Rockville. It is a match meant to be. We become instantly Jett and Nash, so decided by me to avoid confusion but also because my Dad and his best friend in college went by Jett and Leggett and I thought it exceedingly cool.

When Betsy gets married on the spur of the moment in early January (I vow in a letter home that if anyone else dares to get married during exams I will shoot them) we quickly turn her bed into a sofa in fervent hopes that the school will not assign another girl to our room. It works, just us for the balance of the year. About that wedding. Betsy is engaged to a guy, Ronnie, from VPI. We talk her into going out on a blind date just to get out of the dorm. With Jack Bruce, Gordon’s (dating Frances and also Sandy’s first cousin) roommate. They fall madly in love and truth told no stretching it (letters home confirm) get married in a church with a posh hotel reception the next weekend. Poor Ronnie. He shows up that first date weekend with roses in hand to surprise Betsy (it was one of their anniversaries). Betsy will not see him. It falls to one of us to break the news. Talk about drama. The next year Alicia who lives in the ballroom on the third floor joins Sandy and myself. Then it’s just one more year and 909 as a dorm is closed forever.

A small window in time when we were The Girls of 909.

A composite I made one winter break when I was the only one in the dorm and bored to tears

A composite I made one winter break when I was the only one in the dorm and bored to tears

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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