A Sketchy Past 

While most of Irene Miller Rodkin's art is unsigned, chances are, if you lived in Memphis in the 1970s and much of the '80s, you know her work well. That's when Rodkin was the main staff fashion artist for the Goldsmith's in-house advertising department. Back then, Goldsmith's used illustrations, rather than photographs, to show off their goods in advertisements, and Rodkin would, on average, create an illustration a day for that purpose. A collection of her illustrations, along with portraits and other work, will be on display in the exhibit "When Ads Were Art" at the Memphis Botanic Garden.

"Buyers within the store would be responsible for choosing the things they wanted featured in the ad," Rodkin says. "They would bring [the clothes] up to my office, and I would first sketch them on hangers, and then I would put them on figures." The figures were copied from tearsheets from other newspapers collected by the layout department and chosen to best highlight the clothes. "I liked high fashion the best," Rodkin says. "A large volume of ads were sale ads, where they'd feature a really good sale price, and the illustrations would be of dresses or house garments or lingerie. They would be kind of generic. But once in a while, I would get really nice fashion ads."

The illustrations featured in the exhibit are originals given to Rodkin over the years by the production department. "The production person would return some of the originals to me because they would store them, and they wouldn't always have room," she says. "Some things they thought were too nice to pitch."

"When Ads Were Art" at the Memphis Botanic Garden from January 5th-31st. The opening reception is Sunday, January 6th, from 2 to 4 p.m.

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