Feature Articles

May 2013

South Carolina State Museum in Columbia, SC, Offers Advertising Art

The South Carolina State Museum in Columbia, SC, is presenting Between the Springmaid Sheets, featuring advertising art used in a controversial ad campaign which helped turn a struggling Springs Mills into one of the giants of the textile industry, on view through Sept. 8, 2013.

Through dozens of works of art, the exhibition tells the story of Springs, a struggling enterprise in 1931 when dashing World War I flying ace Col. Elliott Springs inherited his father’s business.

The exhibition explains how the brilliant and daring Springs used racy images and innuendo-laced text to catapult his struggling cloth business to prominence following World War II.

“The principle focus of the exhibition and accompanying catalogue is the collection of original maquettes (illustrations) and associated advertisements by internationally known illustrators such as James Montgomery Flagg, George Petty and Rockwell Kent,” said Karen Derksen, director of Winthrop University Galleries, who curated the exhibit for Winthrop University Galleries in 2012.

“Through these illustrative works, Between the Springmaid Sheets explores the motivations and societal circumstances that built the successful brand still known today as Springmaid.”

Springs began commissioning artwork depicting attractive young women as his “Springmaids.” The ads were considered risqué at the time (and some still are), but the controversy only promoted the product even more, and the legendary marketing savant restored Springs Mills to prosperity by the 1950s.

While the advertising industry initially called Springs’s ads “degrading,” today his potpourri of risqué images, puns and double entendres is studied at major universities around the world.

“These illustrations and their slogans have become part of the visual culture of our state and beyond,” said State Museum Curator of Art Paul Matheny. “The artwork and its use in advertisements in nationally published magazines has become an important and influential part of our cultural history.”

Advertising alone didn’t turn the company’s fortunes around, however. Savvy business moves on Springs’s part had the mill manufacturing not just cloth, but finished textile goods, primarily bed sheets, after World War II. Springs also modernized and expanded the company.

Realizing that the success of this new structure depended on a national market for his finished textiles, Springs devised a nationwide ad campaign that provoked but with humor, that combined the ridiculous with the sublime by transforming a typical sexy ad into a cartoon.

Nearly 20 years earlier, Springs had proposed the idea to his father, and in the post-war world he brought out his concept of cartoons laced with witty double entendres. It was as clever as it was provocative, and its intellectual properties caught the public’s imagination, and its dollars.

Captions often described the action in the cartoon, and the images became known by these descriptions: “A Buck Well Spent,” “Clothes Make the Man, or How to Put the Broad in Broadcloth,” or “You Can’t Go Wrong on Fort Mill Sheets.” The attractive “Springmaids” depicted in the ads often were modeled for the paintings by female employees of the company.

“Winthrop Galleries is grateful to the South Carolina State Museum for its support of this exhibition and excited that Springs’s important legacy in advertising history is reaching a greater audience,” said Derksen.

The exhibit is sponsored by YP.com.

For further information check our SC Institutional Gallery listings, call the Museum at 803/898-4921 or visit (www.southcarolinastatemuseum.org).

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