“Mom has the sharpest eye for beauty,” says Genie Welch in Ashley Callahan’s upcoming book, Frankie Welch’s Americana: Fashion, Scarves, and Politics. Decorative arts scholar Callahan uses interviews with the de Welch family and archival research to reveal a detailed biography of Frankie Welch, a Georgia-born designer, stylist and creative entrepreneur who died last year at the age of ninety-seven years old.
The book also shares photos and the stories behind Welch’s beautiful and iconic silk scarves, and the University of Georgia presents a retrospective exhibition of Welch’s work online and in the galleries of the UGA Special Collections Building in Athens through July 8.
Welch, who was born and raised in Rome, Georgia, moved to Alexandria, Va., and became a sought-after fashion designer from the 1960s through the 1990s, combining her love of modern design with her social skills and sense of purpose. business. Her clients included first ladies Lady Bird Johnson, Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford and Pat Nixon.
Welch drew inspiration from Italian streetwear, the aesthetic of her idol architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and the iconic wardrobe of Jacqueline Kennedy, seeking versatile and stylish wardrobe pieces for the working woman. . She also designs scarves for politicians, pursuing the growing desire for these lightweight accessories, particularly popular in France. “Her legacy lies in how she combined fashion, business acumen, social skills, impartiality and a host of scarves to define her own career and fill it with constant change and creativity,” Callahan writes in the book.
Welch turned to her Georgian roots when, in 1967, she created gifts for the White House and State Department at the request of Virginia Rusk, wife of Secretary of State Dean Rusk. While imagining a “truly American” design, her mind returned to Rome, Georgia, and she printed the Cherokee alphabet on her new silk scarves. Welch, who had seen the alphabet in a book that recorded the history of his hometown, considered it “the original American language”. She created graphic, curvy figures on ivory silk, framing them in rich earth tones. The print was an instant hit, becoming so popular that she adapted it in the form of flowing belted dresses, longer scarves and coat liners.
Welch, who identified as part of Cherokee, often spoke and wrote about her heritage and shared family stories, all of which became an essential part of her design and career. She donated a portion of her sales to an education fund for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Native people, such as Cherokee Nation senior chiefs WW Keeler and Wilma Mankille, as well as activist LaDonna Harris, cherished and wore Welch’s alphabet design. Harris, who became a friend of Welch, even said her design of the Cherokee alphabet was an inventive “talking piece” for Native American causes.
From grassroots organizations to large-scale political campaigns, Welch’s scarves have helped advertise groups, garden clubs, restaurants, and presidential candidates, while also functioning as wearable works of art. . Southern colleges commissioned her for alumni gifts, and she developed location-specific prints for campuses such as the University of Virginia, Washington & Lee University, and the University of Alabama. Often working with a school color palette, Welch has woven familiar architecture, such as UVA’s iconic Rotunda and W&L’s Colonnade, with the schools’ designs for beautifully detailed prints.
Even without the leadership of Southern organizations that often commissioned her, Welch tapped into her roots. She adored her home country, “sometimes bringing a pot of red soil back to Virginia after a visit to Rome to remind her of her home in Georgia,” Callahan writes. Influenced by Lady Bird Johnson’s Tiffany and Co. White House dinnerware collection, she designed the Fifty State Flowers scarf in 1967. Although each state is represented on the scarf, she planted her love for her state of origin front and center: vibrant bouquets and streams. of handwritten names framed the Georgia flower, an individual Cherokee rose.
Welch spotlighted another symbol of Georgia, the humble peanut, for President Jimmy Carter’s political campaigns. For the first version of the design, organic shapes of layered tan peanuts debuted for Carter’s 1973 gubernatorial run, and his wife, Rosalynn, proudly wore a long dress with the pattern. During Carter’s presidential tour, Welch revisited the peanut pattern with playful checkerboard rows for the Democratic National Committee.
Welch donated several of her scarves to the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Georgia in Athens and the Rome Area History Museum in her hometown, the two largest archives of her work. “Her scarves constitute a unique body of work in the history of American fashion,” Callahan writes. “They are a distinct and delightful expression of Americana.”