I have fallen in love with vintage tablecloths, napkins and scarfs that are marked with four simple letters V E R A. I love the bright colors and the funky, sometimes abstract designs. I have a few scarves, but haven't been lucky enough to find a vintage tablecloth-- yet.
Here is what I learned:
Vera Salaff was born in Stanford, Connecticut on July 24, 1907 to Russian immigrants Fanny and Meyer Salaff. She was the third of four children. Her parents encouraged each of their children to find their passion and go with it. Vera's passion was drawing and painting. When she was a child, her father encouraged her passion with an offer of fifty cents for each sketchbook that she was able to fill with her drawings or doodles. He also took her to the Metropolitan Museum of Art every week on Sunday to further foster her interest in art.
She went on to study art and design at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art where she was honored with their Outstanding Alumna award. She graduated in 1928, and continued her studies by enrolling at Traphagen School of Design in Manhattan. Her first job was in New York as a fashion illustrator. She then went onto be a textile designer and then on to design fabric and then murals in children's rooms. She was considered to be a shy and private person who once said, "color is the language that I speak best." She believed that art should be accessible to everyone, not just a select few and that it shouldn't be limited to just hanging on walls, but that people should surround themselves with it.
She married George Neumann, who was of Austrian descent, (I couldn't find any information on the year they married or if they had any kids. I checked several sources and a lot of them had the same type of information but some specifics (dates and addresses specifically) were different everywhere I looked) and they moved into a small studio apartment in New York.
They had a small silk-screening machine and started their business in 1947 on their kitchen table. They were limited in the beginning to place mats and napkins, (that they cured in their oven) because the silk screener was so small. They called their company Printex. They had another partner, Werner Hamm, and they each put in $1000 to start the business. Werner personally carried their place mat and napkins (designs adapted from Vera's water color paintings) to the B. Altman department store on 5th Avenue and things really took off from there!
During World War II, they were finding it difficult to get the materials they needed to make place mats and napkins, so they tried surplus silk from parachutes and then launched into manufacturing scarves. When her artwork was transferred to place mats, napkins and scarves, she kept her signature that was on the original artwork. She was the first designer to ever put her signature on textiles and scarves (1947). By the 1950's her signature evolved to include a tiny little lady bug. Vera said they hired a team of designers to take Vera's original designs and transfer them to other products.
Vera was very particular with making sure the colors she intended for her scarves were actually used. The printing of the scarves was done in Japan, and along with the design, she sent a completed scarf as well as specific instructions as the the colors and dye formulas. She
All of her designs were copyrighted. By her death, there were over 8,000 designs copyrighted by the library of congress. She was inducted into the Resident Associate Program at the Smithsonian in 1972 and she has been celebrated by many colleges and art schools for being such a driving/changing force in the industry.
Before long, her scarves were very popular among celebrities and women around the country because of their bright, colorful and cheerful designs. Her designs even hung in the white house and covered furniture (Jack in the Pulpit pattern) during Bess Truman's stay.
In the 1960's blouses and dresses in cotton and silk were added to the lines of scarves and household linens. Demand for Vera products was at an all time high when tragedy struck with the early death of George in 1962. Vera held on to the business for another 5 years, and then sold it to Manhattan Industries in 1967. She stayed on as their main designer, often working up to six days a week, only taking Tuesdays off to get her hair done and take time for board meetings. Her career spanned five decades, and boasts over 20,000 designs for scarves and thousands of pieces of art.
By the 1970's her products were being sold in over 1200 stores and her company was making over a hundred million in annual sales. In 1988 she sold her company called "Vera Licensing" to Salant Corporation and Printex was closed. She continued to paint and design until shortly before her death in 1993. In 1999 Vera Licensing was sold to The Tog Shop (a catalog company that had licensing rights from Vera). In 2005 Susan Seid, the former vice president of merchandising of The Tog Shop bought The Vera Company (the current name of the company.).
Susan also owns the extensive library of Vera prints and over the years, she has worked with many well known retailers to reintroduce vintage Vera artwork into new items available for consumers today. She has licensed the rites to the following companies so they can reproduce the vintage designs in new items; Anthropologie, Bed Bath and Beyond, Bindya New York, Bloomingdales, Crate and Barrel, Lord and Taylor, Macy's, Nordstrom's, Target and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I'm very excited to see that her designs are coming back and that I can go right out and get a tablecloth-I live about 5 minutes from Target and Bed Bath and Beyond! Guess where I'm going tomorrow!?! I've never found a Vera tablecloth at an estate sale. I think everyone in the house, shopping the sale will know by my whoops of excitement if I ever do!
I am hoping that some day Pyrex will catch on to the fervor and excitement of all of the collectors that crave finding vintage Pyrex to add to their collections, and reintroduce a new line that pays homage to the old designs, colors and styles. I've even written an email to them suggesting they consider it!
I hope you enjoyed reading about Vera as much as I enjoyed learning about her. I hope the next time I mention Vera that I'll be able to include some pictures of my find!
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