Amy Meadows Portrait by Marc Hauser for SELF Magazine (date unknown but clock those shoulder pads. . .Amy’s comment!)
I have known Amy Meadows professionally for many years. I greatly admired her creativity and talent while she was at Marshall Field’s where she gave us extraordinary interiors and windows and then sharing her talents as an amazing teacher and colleague at Columbia College Chicago. Here are her insights into the beginnings of her career in visual merchandise along with her teaching career and her answers to the nenasnotes questionnaire.
“A 5 year old in Franklin, Tennessee wins an art contest and is later put on display—literally– at a desk with art supplies inside the window of a downtown bank. Hmm. Creativity + working behind glass + attention-getting product. Is it any wonder I ended up in Window Display?
Actually, it took a few more decades and a Theatre degree from Northwestern University, working in regional theatre and moving to Chicago before I officially began working in windows.
A childhood spent sewing, painting, drawing and decorating provided opportunities for “craft entrepreneurship” (i.e., selling fruit crate dollhouses in Louisville, Ky art fairs)
Once at college , I quickly discovered that I preferred working backstage to onstage
and that I was much better suited to creating props, painting backdrops and designing sets. I enjoyed the work that I did at school and with the Lost Colony Theatre and the Virginia Museum Theatre, even squeezing in a props gig on “My Dinner with Andre”. “Do you like this lampshade, Mr. Malle? No? How about this one?”
We were all young, artsy and broke. I wanted to be young, artsy with a steady gig. I loved “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (a Nena note, another successful woman who was inspired by the incredible Mary Tyler Moore) and figured that Rhoda Morgenstern’s job would be just the ticket. With the naiveté of youth and the dubious honor of having chosen a fictional character as a career model, I landed a position as a trimmer in 1983 at Marshall Field’s flagship store and remained there, climbing the ranks, until 2008 when Chicago’s regional offices were dismantled.
When people ask what my dream job would be, well, quite frankly. . .this WAS my dream job. Countless Great Trees, Christmas windows, Flower Shows, Flea Markets and more. While the job entailed some not very glamorous tasks like “scattering” bags of Kosher salt for holiday snow, crawling backwards out of windows, cutting scenery in half to fit past the jewelry vault (oh, I could go on) there was also international travel and the chance to work directly with acclaimed authors, florists, artists and designers.
But when you’ve worked for the best, then what? Fortunately, I had maintained a partnership with Columbia College Chicago since 1991 and I have continued to teach Visual Merchandising in the Fashion Studies Department.
Amy with her Columbia College Chicago students.On Field’s rooftop, Christmas/flower show/flea market, etc: photo by Susan Kezon
I can officially state that, with the exception of one instructor, every Part-Time faculty member currently teaching visual merchandising and/or window display was either an employee or a student (or in one case, both!) While I derive no particular pleasure from climbing ladders these days, I find the creative and academic efforts of teaching to be consistently invigorating.
Working with a student on the front windows, 618 South Michigan Avenue, displaying Columbia College Chicago Fashion Studies design students projects. Photo: Philip Dembinski
I began my consulting firm, Windows Matter, www.windowsmatter.com, later in 2008. I speak nationally to business and civic organizations, retailer consortiums as well as working with individual clients on branding, displays and storefront assessments. I hate to see a window go to waste!
There have also been fab gigs with exhibition design (see above) and boutique boot camps. After 25 years on State St., I look for ways to leverage those tips and tradesmanship for assisting “main street” . And, because I am a lifelong learner and hopelessly curious, I recently completed my Museum Studies Certificate at Northwestern in order to better understand the distinctions—and duplication—of skillsets for visual merchandising vs exhibition design..
An occupational hazard has been the desire to collect and to showcase treasures from travel and artists around one’s home.
Fortunately, I have a supportive family who enjoys the whimsy and eclectic nature of our house.
Both above photos from Chicago Reader: photos by Leslie Schwartz
Well, except for the clown portrait that I thought looked just swell in the living room with other related images. My daughter promptly veto’d that piece. Sigh.
I’m frequently asked what it’s like to be “creative”. I think that we’re ALL creative. Whether one is handy with a paintbrush or printing press is not the sole identifier—for me, creativity is solving problems. I think that’s one reason I enjoy my daily crosswords. . I’m solving riddles, looking for commonalities and clues, establishing order and generally trying to make sense of a muddle. It’s much the same way that I approach a design challenge—what’s the budget? The timetable? The merchandise, the customer, the brand? I suppose if I think of it in those terms, it’s not a surprise that I devour murder mysteries and espionage novels. Anyone looking for clues to my identity via my Kindle might question my love of country or untoward thoughts toward enemies but I can assure you that it’s for entertainment value only.
YOUR FANTASY DINNER PARTY GUESTS:
I think that it is my affection for puzzles and stories that would shape my fantasy dinner. Or should I say “not exactly a dinner” but more of a salon with humorists, singers with access to small plates (dibs on bacon-wrapped dates or maybe those semolina gnocchi from Bread and Wine?) and good wine. Lots of good wine. My guest list would include John LeCarre (so that I could quiz him on spy craft), David Sedaris (in order to howl over stories about Christmas in department stores), Mark Twain, Pete Seeger, Bill Bryson, Carl Hiassen, Anne Lamott (for her wisdom and grace) and Annie Proulx. Maybe a visual artist or two to capture the evening in pen and ink or photographs for posterity. Above all, the evening would be filled with laughter—lung-cleansing, rib-aching laughter. Everyone returns home renewed and reinvigorated.
YOUR FAVORITE CHICAGO STREET ART PIECE?
As such, Calder’s “Flamingo” at Federal Plaza never fails to make me smile. I have long enjoyed his work, esp. his tiny wire figures. Although enormous, this work loses none of the whimsy and grace with which his smaller, quirkier pieces are imbued.
FAVORITE VACATION SPOT AND WHERE YOU WOULD LIKE TO GO?
As far as the perfect vacation my needs are simple: a porch or veranda, a view of the water or woods and access to lobster—Virgin Bar Harbor, Hilton Head and Bermuda.
Not that other trips haven’t been spectacular but let’s stick with the basics, shall we?
I don’t cook lobster for myself at home but I do enjoy a good shrimp dish, especially if it has a hint of my Southern heritage. I make this Shrimp and Grits Casserole in individual ramekins (vs. a single casserole dish) when entertaining:
Shrimp and Grits Casserole (Cooking Light, March 2008)
2 cups 2% reduced fat milk
¾ cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 cup uncooked quick-cooking (not instant!) grits
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (2 oz) shredded Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter
1 (3 oz) package 1/3 less fat cream cheese
3 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 large egg whites
1 lb peeled and deveined shrimp, coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 375
Combine milk and broth in a medium heavy saucepan; bring to a boil. Gradually add grits and salt to pan, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook 5 minute or until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in Parmesan, butter and cream cheese. Stir in parsley and next 4 ingredients (through shrimp) Spoon mixture into an 11” x 17” dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375 for 25 min or until set. Serve with hot pepper sauce if desired. Yield: 6 servings
One of my favorite Christmas gifts is a membership to Spudnik Press Cooperative, www.spudnikpress.org, here in Chicago. This will hopefully provide the incentive to get my printmaking chops up to speed—I have a special affection for interpreting children’s artwork into more “grown up” pieces of art without losing the confidence of line and disregard for rules shown in so many drawings and paintings. While I often work on my own children’s art, I frequently receive requests and commissions so, start the presses—literally!
Before/after of Fridge to Frame artwork: Amy’s
It would be fair to say that I spend more time with print publications than online sources. Facebook provides an opportunity for me to connect with arts organizations, etc. and participate in upcoming events. Today, I’ll be attending a lunch lecture at De Paul’s Cultural Heritage Law center (I’m intrigued by the legal and ethical dilemmas presented by art theft, looting and repatriation) and then, a few days later, a Pantone workshop @ Chicago Design Museum. Never stop learning!”
Nena: Amy, I couldn’t agree more! Thank you for your contribution and for letting us get to know you more in depth.