Owning a Piece of Creative History

I spent more than half my life as a writer creating advertising, news releases, brochures, articles and even speeches. I know first-hand that the creative process is fickle and unforgiving. Sometimes ideas flow non-stop and other times there are dry spells where the ideas never come. I am always amazed by what can trigger an idea. It can be the most random thought or even an arbitrary encounter with something that generates a solution to the creative puzzle. That is why creative minds need to be fed a lot of random information and surrounded by creative people who understand the process.

I was fortunate early in my career to work for an ad agency that appreciated the creative process. I started working for Meldrum & Fewsmith in Detroit in the 1980s when the firm’s CEO was an art director. He understood the creative craft and showed no mercy in pushing us to do our best – to create the best advertising in the business. It forced me to refine my writing, to always look to improve what I created. The agency had a long history in the advertising business, dating back to the 1930s. When the agency closed its Detroit office after losing a major account, I was able to take a piece of that history with me.

Joseph Fewsmith and Andrew Meldrum worked in several ad agencies in the 1920s before starting their own agency, Meldrum and Fewsmith, in 1930. Fewsmith is best known for creating the “Somewhere West of Laramie” ad for the Jordan Motor Car Co. These ads were thought to be the first in the U.S. to use sex appeal to sell cars. Meldrum and Fewsmith is also known for hiring renowned photographer Margaret Bourke-White to take pictures for Republic Steel Corp. ads and for creating a national market for Glidden paint in the 1930s.[1] The agency had a storied past and that creative legacy was still alive when I worked there.

When the Detroit office of Meldrum & Fewsmith closed in the 1980s, I was one of the few moved to their main office in Cleveland. As they cleaned out the Detroit office, employees were able to buy the old furniture. I had my eyes on an old wooden desk stashed in a storage area. I purchased the desk, but because of its bulky size it sat in storage for several decades. A couple times I tried to get rid of it, but no one wanted the massive desk. When we moved to our current house, I finally decided to reconfigure it into a standing desk. It was during this process that I made a surprising discovery. The desk had an asset id tag for Meldrum & Fewsmith with the number 59. I also discovered a sticker which indicated the desk was purchased in Cleveland.

The low number on the tag started me thinking that my desk may have been part of the furnishings when Meldrum & Fewsmith opened in the 1930s. I began to wonder if Joe Fewsmith had sat at this very desk as he reviewed photos with Margaret Bourke-White for Republic Steel ads. Perhaps the Glidden Paint ad campaign that made it a national name was conceived on the desk. I began to wonder if the coffee cup circles were made by Fewsmith or Meldrum as they labored over creative approaches for clients. Suddenly the wood desk surface beneath my computer took on new meaning. It radiated a history of creative enterprise and prompted me to want to make my own coffee cup circles on the desk. I think Joe Fewsmith and Andrew Meldrum would be pleased that even though the agency they founded disappeared in the 1990s, one of their desks is still used by one of their alumni as a writing desk.

[1] Meldrum & Fewsmith history from: MELDRUM AND FEWSMITH | Encyclopedia of Cleveland History | Case Western Reserve University

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