Commercial photographer Liz Glasgow usually laughs when she looks at photos of herself as a little girl. "I'm posing like a model in every picture!" she exclaims.
That's because as early as the Greenport resident can remember, a parade of beautiful women would visit her family's expansive Upper East Side apartment in the 1960s to pose for her mother, the late fashion illustrator Hilda Glasgow.
Well before the fashion industry turned to photography, Hilda Glasgow worked out of her home from the 1940s until the late 1960s. She launched her career in the 1930s as an illustrator of children's books, and later was steadily retained to draw the latest fashions for department stores such as Saks, Bonwit Teller and B. Altman & Co., for women's magazines like Ladies' Home Journal, Woman's Day and McCall's, for designers such as Evan Picone and for the top Manhattan advertising agencies at the time -- BBYO, Grey Advertising and Young & Rubicam.
Inside a room in the family's apartment was Hilda Glasgow's drawing table, a model stand and something else -- a large, white metal cabinet. Glasgow, 55, inherited it when her mother moved to a retirement home in Pennsylvania in 1997. Years later, when the Great Recession hit, Glasgow would use the virtual treasure chest and its contents to launch an online retail store -- The White Cabinet -- that sells note cards, invitations and other paper goods bearing the charming images her mother created, as well as limited-edition prints, all priced from $5.50 to $395.
Like mother, like daughter
Both of Glasgow's parents were artists. Bernard Glasgow, who died in 1986, was a modernist painter. For the past 14 years, Papillon Gallery in Los Angeles has represented his works.
Hilda Glasgow used a dedicated room in the family's Manhattan apartment as her studio. Sometimes, she would set up a small table next to hers and hand her daughter crayons so the two could sketch side by side. It was inside the white cabinet that the family's photography, art supplies and Hilda Glasgow's drawings were kept.
"There was a drawer full of crinoline that my mother would use to pouf up skirts," Glasgow recalled.
Thewhitecabinet.com, her online business, is based out of the home she shares with her husband of seven years, Jim Nemeth, and his 16-year-old son, Andy.
"The idea came to me out of the blue," said Glasgow, who photographs homes for Hamptons architects and interior designers. "The economy had turned, and I had some time on my hands. And just all of a sudden, in June of 2010, I thought, I bet if I photograph and print them everyone would love them."
Stored inside the cabinet were supplies, about 70 of Hilda Glasgow's original pen-and-ink sketches and 30 stats, similar to reproduction prints, many of which hadn't seen the light of day for five decades.
To launch the online store, Glasgow rounded up several drawings her mother had given away to add to the overall collection.
"That summer, I couldn't stop -- I was obsessive," Glasgow said. "I couldn't wait to get up in the morning. It was so much fun." She even created names for the women in the illustrations -- Rita, Maxine, Nell -- that evoke a sense of time and place for the images, which showcase the models in period clothing and accessories.
The gift shop at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill and Greenport retailer The Times Vintage carry her products. Glasgow has licensed the drawings to Hester & Cook Design Group, a Nashville wholesale company that sells vintage paper goods, such as note cards and paper place mats. Brooklyn-based Flavor Paper is working with her on custom wallpaper.
Two years ago, fashion designer Michael Kors purchased "Colette," a limited-edition print circa 1958. And "Mad Men" costume designer Janie Bryant gave The White Cabinet product line a glowing endorsement on her website: "Want some inspiration? You'll be an immediate fan of Hilda Glasgow, a top fashion illustrator of the '50s and '60s -- LOVE!!"
While AMC's "Mad Men," returning for its seventh season in April, has spurred an uptick of interest in everything vintage, from fashion, accessories and home goods to decor and art, back in her day, Hilda Glasgow's work was hardly valued as an art form.
"Fashion illustrations were simply functional, for years and years seen as commercial objects," said Shawn Waldron, senior director of archives and records at Condé Nast in Manhattan. "They were done for a purpose -- to show and sell a product of some kind," not as artworks in and of themselves. In fact, while the sketches would at times be returned to the artists, more often than not, they ended up in the trash.
But Waldron notes that there's a certain cachet placed on authenticity nowadays, which, he said, makes Hilda Glasgow's organic illustrations valued as one-of-a-kind, hand-drawn objects.
'I was really good'
Before Hilda Glasgow died in 2004 at age 90 of uterine cancer, she saved her illustrations and even on occasion gave some to friends and family. Glasgow has four framed prints of her mother's work in her Greenport home, including three her mother had hanging in her apartment.
When Hilda Glasgow moved to a retirement home in Philadelphia in the late 1990s, she held a small exhibit for the residents.
Glasgow, an only child who was born when her mother was 45, went to the opening. "I remember her looking at them, and she said, 'You know, I was really good,' " Glasgow recalled.
Waldron agrees. "She had a very strong style," he said, likening it to the late and famous fashion illustrator Carl (Eric) Erickson, whose work appeared in Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and other publications for 35 years. "Eric was known for a strong and confident line, and I saw a lot of similarities in Hilda's work. Her work lends itself as wall art. It feels like a finished work of art, as opposed to a quick sketch."
With the advent of fashion photography in the 1970s and '80s, demand for illustrators waned, and today it's a dying art form.
"It doesn't really exist much anymore," said Steven Stipelman, an associate professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, noting that in the past, in addition to magazines, fashion designers -- who weren't trained to draw -- would hire illustrators to showcase their creations. "It's not a viable profession."
Today's fashion-design students are required to sketch their own designs, added Stipelman, who shares something in common with Hilda Glasgow. He, too, was a fashion illustrator -- for 25 years -- but, unlike her, he did not save much of his work, something he wishes he'd done.
For Glasgow, aside from the thrill of her success with a business built around her mother's work, she is overjoyed that her mother's talent is being appreciated by a new audience.
If she could see her daughter's accomplishments and hear what professionals say about her own work now, "she would be happy on so many levels!" Glasgow said. But there's another aspect to The White Cabinet that has greater significance for her.
"When she passed away, I missed her so much," Glasgow said. "I still miss her. But this has been a very cathartic experience. It makes me feel like she's still with me, and helping to take care of me, still."
ILLUSTRATION BY THE BOOK
In his textbook, "Illustrating Fashion: Concept to Creation" (Fairchild Books, Third Edition, $82), Fashion Institute of Technology professor Steven Stipelman provides step-by-step instructions on fashion figure drawing in addition to outlining various techniques and tips. For 25 years, Stipelman was a staff illustrator at luxury retailer Henri Bendel in Manhattan and a fashion artist at the fashion periodical Women's Wear Daily.