My Beautiful Mom, the Artist
Among many other things, my mother, Gabriele Ilse Feuchtwanger was an artist and designer. In the 1950's and 1960's she designed and hand-painted a line of popular nursery furnishings for a company called Nursery Plastics, and later called Nursery Originals.
Irmi and Fred Bering founded Nursery Plastics after Fred returned home from fighting the Japanese in the Pacific in WWII as a United States Marine. As a young boy living in NYC, Fred was one off my idols; those-ordinary looking men who came back from WWII and so casually talked about their combat experiences.
I think the Berings used the word "Plastics" even though they ended up producing almost everything in wood, because plastic was the new "in" thing at that time. Remember that famous line near the beginning of the movie, The Graduate?
My mother was a young artist who escaped from Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and settled in Manhattan. She, her sister and their parents were still living in Munich when Nazi Brown Shirts forced their way into their home on Krystallnacht. They escaped shortly after that terrible night, over the border into Switzerland. Not allowed to stay there, they made their way to France. Not feeling safe in France, they made their way to the US via Cuba. The stay in Cuba was necessitated by the severe restrictions on Jewish immigration into the US.
Mom preferred and went by the name Gaby. She learned her excellent English mostly by watching movies. In 1948 she married my dad and they made me in 1952. My father left us shortly after I arrived, so Mom had to find work. We lived at 70 Irving Place in lower Manhattan (thus the name of my website).
So Mom was looking for work and Fred & Irmi Bering were looking for an artist/designer for their new business. They hired her to design and paint their new product line.
Mom painted beautiful concept drawings. Irmi selected the best and sent them to a subcontracted woodworking factory in the Italian Alps. There, the pieces were cut and then painted in a base color, usually white. Then they were shipped to the assembly factory in lower Manhattan where my Mom hand-painted every piece with enamel paints in her unique style. She also sometimes mounted the tiny music boxes into each lamp. There were always racks of music boxes in her studio, and I'd often get to take one home.
I used to sit in her factory studio on East 24th street for hours after school, doing my homework from PS 40 and watching her paint. At 5 o'clock we'd walk home together.
With the company's success the workload got too much for one person to handle and the Berings farmed out much of Mom's painting work to a factory in Haiti. Mom made a couple of trips to the island to teach the young women in the factory to paint in her style. She continued doing the new design and other work in New York City.
The company's name was changed to Nursery Originals and the Berings sold it to a company in Rhode Island called Nortek. Irmi tried to get my Mom to quit Nortek and join her in a new venture but as a single parent raising me in New York City, Mom needed the secure paycheck from Nortek. That destroyed our long friendship with the Berings and Mom and I never saw them again.
My Mom continued designing for Nursery Originals with Nortek until she got sick in the 1970s. She died very young at age 60 in 1979. A few months later my first child was born. Today she's in her 30's. I still sometimes get a lump in my throat looking at her. She looks so much like my beautiful Mom.
Which brings me full circle back to a few nights ago, and the reason for writing this now.
My daughter was visiting us, with her new daughter - my first granddaughter! It was bedtime and by her bedside was one of my Mom's lamps. My daughter was just winding up the 50 year-old music box for her daughter and I snapped this picture, holding back my tears.
I miss you Mom, but you live on!