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November 25, 2008

All Her Fault

Jane Flory Freedman

In the Fall of 1963, the first semester of my Freshman year at College, I chose, as part of my financial aid package, to work as a student helper in the Evening Division office instead of selling art supplies in the school store.

I had no idea how profoundly this simple decision, made only because I preferred to work after class rather than between, would affect my life.

 I remember reporting to Jane Flory, Director of the Evening School at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art for the first time January 1964 in the Registrar's Office on the 2nd. floor of the Broad & Pine building.

The pleasant woman who welcomed me, with her soft brown pageboy, merry blue eyes, wearing a denim wool jumper and red and white checked blouse, reminded me of an elementary school teacher.

Mrs. Flory invited me behind the counter introducing me to a skinny dark haired fellow student, Matt Cunniff,  fiddling with records at a desk nearby.

Early days at PCA

The work was necessary but tedious. Way before computers, we gathered data by punching holes in appropriate places on student's registration cards then passed a long knitting needle through the stack of cards. The unpunched cards would stay on the needle while the punched fell away and were counted.

The punchier (no pun intended) we became, the sillier and more outrageous our running commentary. Example; amid the the piles of hundreds of sorted cards was that of a student with the improbable surname of Milestone. Whoever got her card would inevitably remark how we had just passed a milestone, sending us into peels of laughter. You HAD to be there.

Jane was the best boss I ever had. Not only did she work alongside us doing the dirty work, having taken the measure of my character and abilities over time, eventually asked me to teach. First as a substitute then after I graduated, as an assistant teacher, then my own design class. 

I had worked in her office for 2 years before learning that she was not only an Alumna of the College's Illustration Dept. but a respected well known children's book author and illustrator of over 50 published books.

I had gone to art school to study fashion design. 
When they dropped the department, I thought about fashion illustration. 
Then that department was dropped.  
Clueless, I figured it would all work out as I signed up for Illustration.

As Jane continued to share her experiences in book publishing. 
I realized I was interested in children's books too. 
The creators of my childhood books were inspiration. 
These were also the early days of Maurice Sendak and Arnold Lobel and the other 
marvelous  authors and  illustrators of the mid 20th century's golden age.

Jane also encouraged me to write and when I showed her my first pathetic attempt she 
sensitively ripped it to shreds giving me my first professional lessons in plot structure,
active and passive voices and an introduction to Strunk & White's "Elements of Style".

Despite this disastrous effort, she still believed I could write and one day gave me 
the chance to illustrate a published book, her own RAMSHACKLE ROOST. 

Walter Lorraine, Jane's Creative Director at Houghton Mifflin, agreed to give me a go with an amusing letter saying  most author's artist friends made horrible illustrators, but I seemed an

Not only was Jane relinquishing her usual practice and enjoyment of illustrating her own book, but she was giving up the additional fee she would have received for doing the cover and inside drawings. Money she could use supporting her 3 young daughters and increasingly disabled husband.

I had no idea what I was doing to begin with, but Jane and Walter with patience and humor soon taught me the beginning ropes.
Jane and I did 4 books together, though in truth she was there cheering me on through all the books that came after by other authors as well as 4 of my own.  

Jane introduced me to the children's book community in and around Philadelphia taking me to
the Philadelphia Children's Reading Roundtable lunches, lead by the indomitable Carolyn Field of the Free Library. Members included Marguerite DeAngeli, Henry Pitz, Lloyd Alexander, Beth and Joe Krush.

Before tangents become tomes I will conclude.

Over the years I observed only one serious flaw in Jane's character. 
She was not very good at blowing her own horn professionally.

A former Dean of Faculty once condescendingly commented to her that he had heard she wrote children's stories and asked how many. 

When she replied somewhere over 50, he patronizingly asked how many had been published and was completely non-plussed when Jane replied,"All of them!"

My dear friend and mentor of over 40 years passed away on this day 
November 25, 2005, three years ago. 

Not a day goes by that I don't think of her with love and much laughter.

Experiencing the ups and downs in my career I'd often joke that "It was all her fault" for getting me involved in the first place.

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