Artist reflects on life of fashion

21/mar/2016 08:54:04 Charles Contatta l'autore

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Geraldine McFadin became interested in the art of fashion as a child growing up in Mt. Vernon, Indiana. Her five aunts handed down their old clothes to Geraldine, her mother and two sisters to alter.

“We loved clothes, we loved them, and because we were poor we had to make them ourselves,” McFadin said. “We would go into town and look at new clothes and copy them.”

Now 94, McFadin is having her first public showing of her art. As part of a show titled “Fashion and Fairy Tales,” her fashion sketches from the 1940s through 1980s are on display at the Blueline Gallery through April 29.

Born with a cleft palate and a harelip, McFadin said she turned to art classes during her time at Mt. Vernon High School.

“I had a hard time having friends because I was different,” McFadin said. “I loved school. All through school, I was a good student and I took all the art classes there were.”


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Her difference from other students was not necessarily a bad thing, McFadin said. It also meant in her art classes, where most of the projects consisted of coloring mimeographed prints, she would take a more creative approach.

Her first art teachers would get angry with her for wanting to put a different spin on projects, she said, but later in high school she was taught by Mrs. Beavers, who always encouraged her work.

Mrs. Beavers gave McFadin extra art lessons, even keeping McFadin for a year after her graduation in 1940 so McFadin could help teach younger students, she said. During this time, McFadin worked on a mural depicting the history of Indiana in the library of Mt. Vernon High School.

Mrs. Beavers talked her into applying for a scholarship at the Academy of Commercial Art and Design in Indianapolis, which she won. She earned her room and board by living with a family who paid her to cook, clean and help around the house.

“They were wonderful,” McFadin said. “I was very lucky to have people to take care of me.”

By then, McFadin knew she wanted to pursue a job in advertising, she said. However, usually only men were hired as advertisers at that time.

The dean of the Academy told her to start signing her drawings as “Jerry,” only a slight change from her nickname “Gerry,” but enough to get her more recognition as an artist.

“It didn’t bother me,” McFadin said. “I just wanted a job. The only thing I had on my mind was that I wanted a job.”

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the dean was called to serve in the National Guard, and the Academy closed its doors.

McFadin went back to Evansville, Indiana, where she went to work at the Republic of Aviation building P-47 Thunderbolt airplanes. Here, her interest in fashion grew even more as she observed what women did to circumvent the drab clothing of the factory, which included wearing pants, an unusual item of clothing for women to wear at the time.

“We had to wear hairnets too,” McFadin said. “But before long, you know women, we hated those ugly old hairnets, and we started wearing bandannas. That’s why Rosie the Riveter was so colorful — we added color to our work clothes. We rolled up our pants legs so our ankles would show.”

McFadin married in 1950, and after several operations, her cleft palate was closed. Her dentist asked her to teach his wife, Nancy Eckerty, to paint.

Before long, Eckerty introduced McFadin to Ruth Kishline, who began the first high quality clothing line in Indiana. Kishline sold designs from famous designers from New York like Armani, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein.

McFadin worked for Kishline for more than 35 years drawing fashion sketches, which were published weekly in the Evansville Courier and published five times in the New Yorker.

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