Fleur Cowles, as I remember her, pictured at home.
Today’s Profile is a bit different from my other Monday posts. The person I am profiling did not fill out my usual questionnaire but rather it will be a reflection of an artist, a unique creator whose vision took us to a wonderful world of her imagination, that incredible person was Fleur Cowles. I had the extraordinary experience of meeting and working with her many years ago when she visited Saks Fifth Avenue Chicago’s Gift Shop to introduce her book, An Artist’s Journey.
As usual, as with all our visits, I spent the day (or more) with her and had the opportunity to learn more about her fascinating career so these recollections will have to pull my memory back in time (this was long before the days of instant iPhone technology of photos, videos and recording conversations, more the pity!!!) Why, you might ask, am I doing this post today. I was reading one of my favorite lifestyle magazines, The World of Interiors current issue and was literally drooling over photos of interiors when I caught my breath I wanted to see whose home it was…it was Fleur Cowles and it was perfection!
I had first become aware of Ms. Cowles many, many years before our encounter in the Store. It all began at the beginning of the 1950’s when my Father started collecting Flair Magazine. It was a publication like no other then or now and only existed for one year. It was so expensive to produce that her husband, who was the publisher, pulled the plug, much to the regret of all the followers of the magazine. Each month was themed and had a cut away cover to allow you to “peek” inside. As a young girl who as obsessed with fashion and the creative process I was fascinated with each issue, but I think my favorite was the Rose issue which Ms. Cowles insisted be scented (mind you this was long before the scent strip came into being!) Of course, the painting was by Fleur.
Isn’t it glorious….the bouquet is cut away to reveal the charming portrait!
Not only was the art enticing (from Ms. Cowles but also Dali, Dubuffet, etc. etc……) but the stories were written by all the authors and critics of the day, all personal friends of the Cowles. Not to carry this story too far, several years after my Father had passed away we had a flood, our hot water heater exploded, no one was hurt but the water damage destroyed all my yearbooks, all my childhood dolls, all manner of memorabilia and ALL of Daddy’s art magazine collections and on and on. All the Flairs were gone! I have since started collecting them again. I have four of the thirteen published as well as the yearbook. But that is the fun of collecting and why I always adore my monthly Randolph Street Market, http://www.randolphstreetmarket.com, visits (Saturday and Sunday, May 27 and 28 from 10 to 5, the first outdoor Market of the season, yay!!!!) I may come across one or two treasures that might be a Flair I don’t have!
One of my favorite covers.
Don’t always just look at book vendors at RSM, I think the Flairs I have found there have been with vendors who have multiple collections (remember the Printer’s Row Lit Fest is approaching as well as the annual Newberry Library Book Fair, you can fill in your magazine and book collections there as well!!!!)
My copy of the Flair Annual, I have also found this at Randolph Street Market and given it to a couple of my friends who appreciate the unique!
My next experience with her was with the publication of her book Tiger Flower, which I fell in love with. My assistant at the time was a superb artist, actually trained in the Fashion Design Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and she copied the cover for me to needlepoint. The rendering is exactly the same as the Cowles painting and I think my needlework did it justice. It is hidden away in storage so I couldn’t get it out to show you, you will have to take my word for it, sorry!
It is a charming story and the art, amazing!
My most recent acquisition was given to me last Christmas by a dear friend….who knows my love for flowers and for Fleur Cowles (mad for her artwork)…a perfect present!
Now for the story of our meeting….I had just gotten back from a trip to London, by now you know I am a major Anglophile, and Ms. Cowles was intrigued by my love of England. We were discussing the places I had visited, I adore all Museums so that became our main topic. She told me that the BBC had asked her to be filmed for a series they were doing on British notables favorite places (as I recall in London) and she chose The British Museum. The hairs went up on the back of my neck and I told her my story of my first visit to the museum. I have long been an admirer of Egyptology, Chicago, as you know, has a long history with Egypt excavations and has many artifacts at The Field Museum as well as one of my favorite museums, The Oriental Institute. I have visited them countless times and also was fortunate to see the Tutankhamun Exhibit when it visited Chicago, exquisite! Now back to the British Museum….on my visit I took myself directly to the Egypt wing and went from room to room, when I entered one of the very large galleries that housed many mummies, I sensed something very uncomfortable, I really couldn’t then nor now explain the feeling but it was one of extreme sadness, a feeling of trespass, if you will. I immediately left the room and the Museum and it took me many years to return on one of my visits to the UK. So what you say…well as I was relating this to Ms. Cowles, she looked at me in a very strange way and told me that was wing she wanted to be filmed in and when they got to that exact room, she felt the same sensation I had had. She asked the guards if there was anything strange about that gallery and they said they felt it as well and the guard dogs would never cross the threshold! I guess I do believe in the problem of disturbed spirits at least I did in that room and actually felt a bit better knowing I wasn’t alone!
Ms. Cowles lived a very long life, she died at 101 years of age, after creating beauty that we can treasure to this day…lucky us and very lucky me that I had the opportunity to visit with one of my Father’s and my idols.
Fleur Cowles in her Studio.
Another view of the Studio now that is what inspiration should look like! All photos from Pinterest, photo credits unknown.
Thank you, Nena, for this wonderful, inspiring information about a brilliant and influential woman who may not be known by the “younger generations”.
With gratitude – from Jo Ann C. Stabb
Thank you so much Jo Ann. She was, indeed, one of a kind. I miss her unique creativity!! Hope all is good with you.
Loved this post! There’s so little information out there on Ms. Cowles, and it’s true that she seems largely forgotten. I didn’t know much about her until I purchased one of her giant screen prints by chance a few years ago. It had languished for months in the corner of a dusty shop until I finally bought it for a whopping $23. Once I got it home, it took me a few hours to decipher the signature. What a surprise! Ms. Cowles led such a fascinating life.
In all my antiquing, I have not yet been able to locate a single copy of Flair. Still looking…
And btw, I’ve been a fan of YOURS for ages! You were kind enough to buy me a cup of coffee back in 1986 when I was pounding the pavement in Chicago, looking for a job in fashion. I ended up at I.B. Diffusion. That was many moons ago! And needless to say, I was thrilled to come across your blog. Cheers!
Thank you so much. She was quite character. Check EBay for copies of Flair. I hope you are following nenasnotes I’m having great fun with it. What are you up to now?? I greatly appreciate your thoughtful note.