Thursday, December 13, 2012

Liquid Paper, Carter's Overalls, and the Way We Worked

Thelma Follensbee, 94, photographed by Jack Rowell. Thelma worked in the H.W. Carter and Sons clothing factory in Lebanon, NH, from age 16 until it closed in 1985. Jack's portraits of former Carter workers will be shown at the AVA Gallery in Lebanon through January in conjunction with the Smithsonian's traveling exhibit "The Way We Worked." 

I don't know about you, but nothing makes me feel quite so old-fogeyish as thinking about the way I used to work. Remember Liquid Paper? We went through gallons of it at Cosmo in the 1980s. Putting together the magazine required wax machines, X-acto knives, toxic chemicals, and many workers. It required a typesetter (remember them?), who was located in Indiana. It required a messenger named Louie, who came to the office every day at 4 o'clock and took "the pouch" to LGA, where it was put on a plane to Indiana. Despite the slowpoke technology, the work got done in a timely manner. Then publishing went digital. Companies downsized. You could make a correction in an eye-blink, but you worked 50, 60, 70 hours a week. The Way We Worked, a collaboration between the Smithsonian and a bunch of local orgs, opens this weekend at the AVA Gallery in New Hampshire and I wish I could go. The building that now houses AVA used to be the H.W. Carter factory, makers of overalls and other work clothes. The factory closed in 1985, but some of the workers are still around, including 94-year-old Thelma Follensbee, photographed by my friend Jack Rowell, who has eight portraits in the show. Talk about hardworking. Jack (who is my age) and Thelma are two of a kind. Jack has an old Subaru crammed to the gills with photographic equipment. Before I can get in the Subie, Jack has to spend half an hour clearing a space for my butt. And my butt is not that big. I mean, that’s how dedicated he is: His car is not a chick mobile, it's a photography studio on wheels. I’m tickled that Jack’s work will be shown in tandem with the Smithsonian exhibit. The show runs through January. Check out the special events and the lecture series here. PS: Jack lives on Fogey Drive in Braintree, Vermont. And Liquid Paper was invented in 1951 by Bette Nesmith Graham, a typist who made lots of mistakes. Bette made the first few batches in a blender in her kitchen. She called the product Mistake Out and offered it to IBM; the company said no thanks. Bette renamed it Liquid Paper and continued to make it in her house. In 1979, the Liquid Paper Corporation was sold to Gillette for $47.5 million with royalties. Sometimes, there is justice. PSS: Bette’s son Mike Nesmith, guitarist/singer of The Monkees, inherited her fortune.

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