My father was a marble worker on the Stevens Hotel, now the Hilton. This went up in 1926, ’27, ’28, and when it opened it was the largest hotel in the world.
But when the job was done there was no more work to do. The Loop was built, my father said. “There’s no space for anything else.” He ought to come back and look at it.
So he went to Detroit to work. There was some marble work there. Some job that lasted about three months.
While he was gone, my mother decided that she should go back to work, because my father would never let her work. So she took all of us kids, and we went to visit her friend Josephine, who was still in the coloring business. My mother said, “Josephine, do you think I could color again?”
Josephine said, “Oh, no, Maude. You’ve been out of it too long. There’s no chance that you could ever color again.”
Oh, we were all so mad. Ma knew she could color. This was her chance. She was going to ask this woman because maybe she’d have colors and brushes she could practice with. But she gave her a flat no. “Oh, you’ve been out of the business too long.”
The very next day we were all dressed up again, and we went downtown to the Copeland Studio on Dearborn Street to see Mrs. Eisart, who had been ma’s forelady. Ma said, “I’ve come to ask if you think I could color again.”
She said, “Well, of course you could, Maude. Once you know how to do it, it’s an art that you’ll never forget.” She said, “Here’s some brushes, here’s some paints, here’s some pictures. Go home and practice.”
So my mother went home and practiced. The next week she saw an ad in the Tribune for a sample color artist. You colored from the furniture or the lamp or whatnot. She answered the ad, and she got the job for a company that was having a show at the Furniture Mart on Lake Shore Drive.
Now my mother had not worked in 20 years. But she takes herself off to the Furniture Mart and she sat there coloring. This woman who’s working at the next table says, “Don’t you use any alcohol?”
Ma says, “No, I don’t.”
“Well, what do you do when you run over?”
It was either ammonia or alcohol, one or the other.
Ma says, “I don’t run over.”
She came home that night, got herself out some alcohol, tried it, saw what it did. And she got ammonia, and she found out what that did.
One day this man from the Rembrandt Lamp Corporation saw her working in the showroom at the Furniture Mart, and he hired her to do all his pictures for his salesmen.
When my father came home from Detroit my mother was sitting at the little black table that’s now in my dining room with stacks of photographs. They were black-and-white photographs, and she’d paint them so the salesmen would have a natural-looking photograph. This was before color photography.
She saved our lives during the Depression by her coloring. And my father became her transportation. He would take the pictures down, he became her messenger. He would go down to pick up the black-and-white pictures and take the finished stuff back.
She would make like $75 some weeks. Well, my father, when he had his marble job, he didn’t make that much.
One summer she had so many pictures to color that she had Rosemarie and her girlfriends help out. She would set them up at card tables. She had three or four card tables between the dining room and living room. She would give them a picture and a little dish of color that she had mixed, and she would ask them to put a gold stick on a lamp or paint a rose on a lamp shade. Lamp shades were real fancy in those days. They had beads and flowers. She just had these girls do one little thing, and they did fine. A simple thing.
But these kids, they were like 11, 12. She paid them a dollar a day. They loved it.
Not too long ago at a wake Kathleen Kane, who’s now Kathleen Walsh, came up to me. I hadn’t seen her in years. She said, “Do you know that your mother was my first boss?”
I said, “Oh, the coloring business.”
She said yes. And she said, “That first five dollars that your mother gave me for my first week’s work, I ran home with it, across the street, and my mother ran to the Edison company and had the lights turned on. That was the most wonderful money I ever made.”