I'd Like to Speak to the Owner
Officially, I started my business in 1965, in the basement of my parent’s home in Hyde Park, MA. - a humble beginning. Once I had an office, I always hired and worked with several other staffers. I preferred to help answer the phone and answer questions. And I genuinely enjoyed greeting any visitors that came by or those that came for tours.
Early on, a little drama occurred that was to repeat itself again, and again. It’s strange to think this happened in similar variations for the next 50 years. I'd often talked about this happening, and would comment to staff, asking them to watch and wait for when the next visitors came. Watch and wait for the "expected" comments, and the familiar scenario set to play itself out.
The first experience, that I encountered like this, was perhaps the most memorable! I was sitting in the front office when a gentleman came in, and without a single sentence of greeting to anyone, he abruptly said, "I want to see your owner." When I told him “I am the owner,” - the little drama began. He repeated that he wanted to see the “real owner” and it certainly wasn't me! Finally, I convinced him that my title was president, by showing him my business card, but that meant nothing to him, as he continued to insist on speaking to my father. To make a long story shorter, this same man had traveled almost 100 miles to complain that my company, Eglomise Designs, had refused to sell our products to his Cape Cod retail store. I struggled to catch my breath, as I told him, “I am so sorry that you are so angry!” I further went on to explain that we were very particular about the stores we partnered with, and that another store nearby already was our customer. I did tell him that we were extremely careful not to saturate any sales area but realistically, we could not sell to another. Although, eventually we did resolve the issue to our benefit, we unfortunately, watched this same scenario play out repeatedly over the next 50 years.
Before I retired recently, I was not only asked about my husband, but how could it be possible that I was the “real owner" or the "sole owner?” That was something that needed to be examined, as far as guests were concerned. The question about ownership usually came after a little tour around the factory. About 15 minutes into the tour, the question dropped, “So, is this a family business?” Or "who are your partners " or " Wait a minute, you said you started this business in 1965? That can’t be quite right." Or, “ I don't quite understand," and then I would be corrected with a comment like this, "a woman couldn't have started this business in 1965, because that didn’t happen in those days,” etc., etc., etc.
I know that women owners today experience some faint echoes of these questions, but as each year goes by I know this conversation will diminish.
And then one day I said "Enough"!!......... and nothing happened. #3
I made a bold step in 1996 and I thought my world would come to an end ...but it didn't. In fact it was the best decision I ever made. When I told colleagues and staff what I was going to do, I was greeted with disbelief and cautiously advised to avoid taking this step at all costs.
Here's the story. Back in 1965 I had started a small business in the basement of my parent’s house. I had collected reverse glass paintings since childhood, and was crazy about eglomise work, - that is the 18th and 19th century art of applying paint directly to the underside of glass. I would commonly find and buy pieces in antique shops around Boston for practically nothing. No one wanted reverse glass paintings. It was a dated art, unknown and under-appreciated at that time. But I bought pieces whenever I found them.
In a moment of inspiration and perspiration, I decided to create my own glass paintings and sell them. I was single, living with my parents, and I didn't have a job, so why not? I felt like I couldn't paint or create artwork, but I plunged in and began to produce little “primitive paintings,” such as could be found in 19th century America. They were charming and I sold a few at local retailers. Due to a strange sales call, where a retailer told me exactly what would sell in his shop, my little paintings of flowers and birds soon evolved into paintings of colleges, and their main architectural landmarks. I, and eventually my staff artists, painted pieces of hundreds of different colleges all across the country and a new business was established. Early on, I though it made sense to call my business “Eglomise Designs.” After all that's what the company was all about. I knew all about eglomise work and that painting on the reverse side of glass gives a certain three-dimensional look to the finished piece. I had majored in French in college so the pronunciation came easily to me. Eglomise Designs was the perfect company name, I was making “art” of sorts, and the name had a little panache - from my perspective. Why didn't somebody tell me that eglomise designs was a very, very poor choice. Just try to open a credit card account with a major firm and mention your name! Everywhere I went, I had to spell the name and share pronunciation strategies. But I couldn't change the title. Glass painting had become the focal point and reason for the actual existence of my company.
Sales were great. I employed more and more staff, and eventually bought a factory to house the ever-increasing supplies of glass, frames, shipping cartons, etc. Yes, sales were great but it became obviously clear that profits were not! Paying an increasing number of artists to paint individual landmark scenes of an exponentially growing number of colleges was clearly a giant money pit. Every painting completed was plunging the company into further debt. It wasn't possible to short-cut the paintings. It wasn't possible to ask the staff to paint faster or with less detail. And then the epiphany came - as a question: Why not photograph the artwork?
I decided to reproduce the very best example of each painting I owned, in a state-of-the-art photographic printer. I began with some research to find the best printer in America, and at that time it was made by Kodak, and was an enormous machine. We had to remove the front of the building to get it into our office, work done by giant cranes, but it was well worth it. When I took one of our best paintings and made a "copy," it was impossible to tell which was the original and which was the copy. We tested painting after painting, and the results were all the same. No one could tell which was which - what was original and what was the copy. In fact, the colors in the reproduction were so beautiful and so true, that the reproduced picture became the favorite among myself and the staffers.
That was the easy part, but I dreaded the next step - telling our loyal customers that we were no longer actually painting on glass. And then came the shock! Over and over the same comment repeated itself: "what do you mean by glass painting?" "I didn't know you painted these college scenes on glass." Or, "I like whatever you're doing now so I hope you won't go back to glass painting,” or “Don’t change a thing - we like what you are doing right now!”
It was a revelation that I'll never get over. People didn't care about glass painting. What they wanted was a nostalgic landmark scene of a particular college or alma mater that was in good taste. Further, they wanted the scene to be housed in a product that would be traditional, and of heirloom-quality, finely-detailed, beautiful workmanship. In a frenzied few months, we chose the best of each college painting and stored it as a digital, permanent record. I’ll never regret starting to make the reverse glass paintings. There is a certain "look" to glass painting that cannot be compared to other techniques, and we will always seek that "look" in our art work going forward. It clearly says "Eglomise Designs.” We love that eglomise look and will never change it.
Copper's note: Ironically we have returned to painting on the glass. A portion of every design goes onto the glass and for those of you who have had a sneak preview of our new minimalist line it is all painted on the glass.
The U.S. Military Academy, also known as West Point, has the motto: Duty Honor Country. As we are looking at some old pictures from Eglomise history, we came across this exquisitely detailed paperweight. We do not guarantee that we currently carry products, images, schools nor can we guarantee a current license on this product shown on Throwback Thursday. We do hope that you enjoy the little side-track down memory lane. Perhaps you wish to share some of your own old pictures of Eglomise Designs products. Send to : email@example.com
Pacific University was originally a orphanage & school set up by Tabitha Brown for the orphans of the Applegate Trail party that relocated from Massachusetts to Oregon. We are looking at a fine paperweight from the history of Eglomise Designs, and some of these pieces are more than 50 years old. We cannot guarantee that we currently carry the product shown, or have a current license on this product. But we hope that you enjoy the detour down memory lane, and perhaps will share some of your own old pictures of Eglomise Designs products.
When I started my business back in the 1960's, I decided to sell my college gifts to the best stores I could possibly find. Not only that, but if there were two terrific stores in a town that were appropriate, I would choose the best one based upon a personal visit. While there, I appraised the "look of the store," the location, and any other pertinent information. When I made my decision, I would try to approach the manager or owner, and introduce myself. I always hoped for the best.
As I recall how much work was involved to located that "best" store, I can hardly believe that I even had the courage, the stamina, and the persistence to repeat that process, year after year, month after month, summer or winter. It must have been sheer stubbornness but I did visit almost every store in the whole of America. I was determined to do so.
My research process, to find the "best store" in a city, began with a visit to the main branch of the Boston Public Library. When I picked a state to cover, I would begin to review the yellow pages of every telephone book for that particular state. Sometimes, there were dozens, and I doggedly searched through them all. I would flip to "Gift Shops” and then to “Jewelry Shops," and look for the specialty ads, larger paid advertisements that provided more information about their products. There were certain key words or phrases that a better store would use repeatedly, and it took just seconds to select from the group, the several I wanted to specifically pursue.
If I decided to visit Dayton, Ohio, I would arrive there with a notebook listing every better store selected in Dayton and the small surrounding towns. It would take a week of follow through to find the stores, study them and arrange appointments. Now let us “fast forward” to 2015.
If I wanted to select the best retail stores Dayton, Ohio and vicinity I would begin with my computer or laptop and ask for a Google search, of course. There would be no need for telephone books, no visit to a library, just the words "gift shops” and “jewelry shops.” The Internet would now, not only show the location of the store selected, but also send a photo of the store itself, and even pop up with reviews from their satisfied customers.
I'm sure this antiquated method of salesmanship sounds positively nuts to present day on-the-road representatives. However, as difficult as it was at the time, there were upsides. . . many of them. One spectacular benefit - I was able to tour the whole of America, discovering in the process, how huge Texas really is, and spotting my very first cardinal in Virginia, etc. The best and most incredible upside of all, was finding my husband while I was looking for a pay phone in Evanston, IL. It was the best discovery I ever made. But that's another story. . .
Copper's note: Martha can be extremely humble at times. When she mentions the goal of being in the best stores Eglomise Products were carried in the Brooks Brothers Catalog beginning in 1968 or 1969. Her standards are high, for product quality and elegance as well as the places her products were sold.
Xavier University is named after St. Francis Xavier, a Spanish Basque Jesuit priest, and the university is managed by the Catholic Society of Jesuits who were renown for providing an in-depth education. We are looking at a paperweight from the history vault of Eglomise Designs, and some of these pieces are more than 50 years old. Although we cannot guarantee that we currently carry the product shown, we hope that you enjoy being side-tracked down memory lane. Perhaps you will share some of your own old pictures of Eglomise Designs products. If you wish, please send an image to: firstname.lastname@example.org