Tag Archives: Manhattan

Pratt Institute and Groundbreaking Women

Pratt Institute and groundbreaking women. It sounds like right from it’s inception in 1887, Pratt  was a school that encouraged women to fulfill their dreams. I feel sometimes that we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that until recently, women didn’t have our own independent, vital, creative, interesting lives outside of our role as wife and mother.  If not the latter role, then we were cast as spinsters.  As I’ve told you, Mom was seemingly unusual for her time.  Born in 1914, she had a successful career as a fashion illustrator.  Mom attended Pratt  Class of ’33.  I decided to see who else attended there in those days.  In general, I found a lot of famous attendees, if not graduates – actor Robert Redford, playwright Harvey Firestein, fashion designer Norman Norell, painters Milton Resnick and Ellsworth Kelly and even Allen Funt of Candid Camera fame.  The list goes on and on.  Those were the men.   The women blew me away.  Some I had heard of and some not, but reading about their lives reinforced my belief that there have always been  women doing outstanding work in a so called “man’s world”.  Here is a brief overview of 4 fascinating women, all born in the 1800’s.

THE WOMEN OF PRATT INSTITUTE

Djuna Barnes

Djuna Barnes Attended Pratt in 1912

1892-1992. Attended Pratt in 1912

Djuna Barnes was an American poet, playwright, journalist, visual artist and short story writer best know for her novel “Nightwood”.   For more, see here.

Gertrude Käsebier

Gertrude Kasebier attended Pratt in 1889

1852-1934. Attended Pratt in 1889

“Gertrude Käsebier  was one of the most influential American photographers of the early 20th century. She was known for her evocative images of motherhood, her powerful portraits of Native Americans and her promotion of photography as a career for women.” ~Wikipedia. For more, go here

Pamela Colman Smith

Pamela Coleman Smith attended Pratt in 1893

1878-1951. Attended Pratt in 1893

Pamela Colman Smith (16 February 1878 – 18 September 1951), also nicknamed Pixie, was an English American artist, illustrator, and writer. She is best known for designing the Waite-Smith deck of divinatory tarot cards. For more, go here

Sara Louise Delany

Sara Louise Delany attended Pratt in 1916

1889-1999. Attended Pratt in 1916

“Sarah Louise “Sadie” Delany (September 19, 1889 – January 25, 1999) was an African-American educator and civil rights pioneer who was the subject, along with her younger sister Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany, of the New York Times bestselling oral history, Having Our Say, by journalist Amy Hill Hearth. Sadie was the first Black person permitted to teach domestic science at the high-school level in the New York public schools, and became famous, with the publication of the book, at the age of 103.” ~ Wikipedia  For more, go here

Mom was in good company.  I’m sure there are scores more stories to tell.  If any of you can add one, please post in the comments. The world needs to hear!

A Shared Birthday

Times

Mom was an avid crossword puzzler.  Or possibly fanatic would be a better word. She did the Sunday NY Times puzzle in ink. For those of you not in the NY area, this is the pinnacle of crosswords.  It’s a Sunday thing to sit down with some coffee and a pen (or pencil for those not quite so bold) and spend the day happily toiling over the squares and clues.

Much to my surprise, I found out that Mom and her beloved crossword puzzles had something in common – their birthday was one day apart.  She was born December 22, 1913 in Brooklyn and it was first published in the New York World (in New York as well) December 21 of the same year.  It’s their 100th birthday!  Mom was the 3rd daughter of Lazar and Cilka Richman (originally Reichman) and crossword (originally word-cross, changed because of a type setter’s error) was the baby of Arthur Wynne.  As an aside, Mr. Wynne asked his publisher if he should copyright the game, but was discouraged from doing this as his boss figured it was a passing fad. Let me point out that the New York World no longer exists…

In 1924,  a couple of recent Columbia University grads, Dick Simon and Lincoln Schuster, decided to publish a book of crosswords at the urging of Mr. Simon’s aunt.  And the rest is history.  In that same year, Mom was reading books like Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice.  It’s unknown if she owned the crossword book.

The crossword became so popular, that commuter rail lines had dictionaries in every car. There was a Broadway show called “Puzzles of 1925”. And the roaring 20’s wild style lead to inventive dresses with the puzzle as their fabric.  I think Mom would have loved this dress!il_340x270.419428205_oj53

 

The puzzles live on as do Mom’s beautiful drawings.  I know people are enjoying them both.  Happy 100th Birthday to Mom and Crosswords!

Hilda’s Hangout

I recently caught up with Laura Mueller, one of Mom’s models and a friend of my folks since they met after WWII.  Laura has always had a fabulous wit and time has not passed that gift by.  She says of herself “As a former model, I can say that I no longer have snap to my garters”, but I beg to differ.  Laura was 17 when she started modeling for Mom.  They met at a place called Wally’s.  This was a studio in Manhattan on 44th Street between Lexington and Third.  Wally’s was where all the fashion illustrators of their  day came to practice their skills,  meet like minds and kibbutz.  In other words, it was a hangout.  The owner, Mrs. Wally, was a widow from Scandinavia and apparently a women of few words.  Laura says she only remembers two – “Pose Please” – at which point the models would do four five minute and then four twenty minute poses.  This was an opportunity for the for the artists to really express themselves more creatively.  Even the very best of them had some more mundane accounts where there were restrictions on how the clothes were drawn. Wally’s gave them an opportunity to create truly unique portfolios. This was a time when the printing technology had evolved so that photography was starting to infiltrate into advertising more consistently.   Fashion illustrations were starting to be phased out.  It must have been a very competitive group.  It was also a place where life long friendships (and business associations) started between both artist and model, and artist and artist.  In talking to Laura, I realized that not only she, but other friends that I remember as a kid, came from Wally sessions.

In addition to Mom, Laura worked with  many of the artists that she met there.  One had an account of a very upscale store.  Laura would pose in the most beautiful gowns and after the drawings were done, the artist would give them a little spritz of Chanel No. 5 and off they went to the client.

Mom never mentioned Wally’s.  She did love to reminisce, so I’m surprised this was all new to me.  Perhaps it was an ordinary occurrence of her week at that time and she didn’t think it special enough to discuss.  I am grateful to Laura for helping me bring those years back to life.   

Lights, Camera, Action

Just wanted to mention our very first television appearance.  Mother’s Day is fast approaching and The Gift Insider  thought one of Hilda’s drawings would be the perfect gift.  Here’s the link below.  So did the camera add 10 pounds to Cyd?  She will always look eternally fabulous in any case.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10CAz7mPfrs]

Creative Gift Ideas