Chris Morrow is a professional advertising illustrator who did work for upscale department stores from the 1950’s through the 1980’s. When I called her to do an interview for this Salt Of America ‘Create’ topic, her modesty masked an amusing personality. By the end of an hour interview her personality began to show. It’s great to write an article, not just to honor people like Chris for their creative drive, but to inspire others to create.
Chris always wanted to be an artist. When she was a little girl she always drew pictures. Her dad worked in a warehouse for Whitman Publishing/Western publishing, Racine Wisconsin. One of their products was paper dolls. He’d swipe all kinds of paper dolls for Chris and she drew dresses for them. She took art classes in high school then went to Layton School of Art, Milwaukee Wisconsin for four years. Chris notes that it was the late 1940’s and no one had much money. She worked as waitress, part time throughout her schooling and to supplement income during her apprenticeship.
She worked as an apprentice in Chicago for a studio who did work for Marshal Fields Department Store. As an apprentice she had to do the grunt work … model the clothes, get the coffee and run errands. She remembers that in the late 1940’s, a full page ad in the Chicago Tribune was .. “oh my, $1000!”. She thought that was a lot. She points out today that’s peanuts. As an apprentice, she learned a lot but didn’t make much money. She would waitress on weekends at Cooley’s Cupboard in Evanston, Illinois.
After her apprenticeship she got a job in Chicago for Heinemann’s. Then she got married, raised a family and moved to northwest Indiana. Some time into child rearing the family needed money. She did illustrations for had two upscale woman’s specialty shops in South Bend, Indiana, the Frances Shop and the Milady shop. After that she worked for Drakes Department Store, Elkhart Indiana. Some of the illustrations in this article are for Drakes Department Store. Chris notes that for Drakes, she just did the art while another person did the layout. Chris moved to central Illinois in the late 60’s. From 1971 to 1992 worked for Robeson’s Department Store, Champaign, Illinois. For Robeson’s Department Store, she also did the layouts and sometimes had to write the copy.
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Chris explained the technology available for creating ad layups during that time … make that, lack of technology. In order to print with ink, halftones are usually necessary. Look close at newspaper photos with a magnifying glass and you will note that they are a series of dots, thicker dots for darker portions and thinner dots for lighter portions. Without the dots a printing press will have trouble with placing ink on grey areas.
The halftone process was expensive for short runs like newspaper advertising so Chris had to use preprinted sheets with dots or fine lines to make gray scales in her drawings. These sheets have trade names like craft tint, zip-a-tone and sepia tone. She would cut out areas of these sheets and lay them up in the grey areas. You will see this effect in many of the ads shown in this article.
|Grey-scale portions were filled in by hand from sheets of paper containing the desired shade.|
Chris wanted to go deeper into the methods of advertising art creation but I changed the subject to her skills of drawing people. Her comment … “well I went to art school for four years.” Some classes were for life drawings, the study of the human figure, nude. She joked that in life drawing classes of the late 40’s, the men wore jock straps. Later she took a refresher course and the models wore nothing, embarrassing a couple of the ladies who took the course with her. Yes, society did change a bit from the 1940’s to the 1960’s.
… Anyway, her illustrations are enjoyable to look at in a couple of ways. First is the awe produced (for this reporter) by meeting a person who has such great art skills. In addition we all can enjoy the historic way that people were depicted in ads of the period. Occasionally we will repeat an enlarged section of a picture so that you may get a close-up of the art form or laugh at the ad copy.
|Drakes Department Store, circa late 1950’s, early 1960’s.|
|It was an era before we dressed casual.|
|Nice hairdo. Cost a lot, even back then, to dress the lady right.|
|Let’s take a break from advertising shots and say hi to Chris Morrow. You’ll enjoy her character.|
|Even now, we let our daughters spend on clothing.|
|Chris notes that skinny lady art was the norm.|
|Layup of a flyer was much different than an ad layup. This layup is for the Frances Shop.|
|Interesting depictions of ladies. I like the style.|
|Different stores had different styles. This ad is for the Milady Shop.|
|On to the 1970’s and 1980’s. Robeson’s Department Store, Champaign, Illinois. Yes, fashion jeans will now be in style …|
|… as well as ‘newsy traditionals’? Looks like depictions of ladies were still skinny though not as exaggerated as the 1960’s.|
|For Robeson’s, Chris would often do the whole layup. It’s not easy to make this kind of layup look good.|
|Love this art form. I think that this ad belongs in a museum or gallery. Let’s take a closer look.|
|Someone please. Grab this ad from her and make copies. I’ll buy one, frame it and display it in the guest bedroom.|
|Remember the day your Dad said, ‘Today you are a man, son!’|
|Continuing the ‘When I Grow Up’ theme.|
|Close-up. Can’t joke about this message. Makes me teary eyed. It will be true forever.|
|Sorry about the flash reflection. We close with a family shot.|
Thank you Chris for sharing you work and your story with us.