Every Blanket Tells a Story: Louise Kelly

Editor’s note:

For National Park Week, we are reposting some of our favorite national park posts! We hope you get out there and enjoy your parks this week, but if you can’t, we will take you to the wilderness as best as we can. 

A long lost blanket pattern

We first saw this blanket when Judy Goodman of Joseph, Oregon, contacted us for information on a blanket that belonged to her grandmother, Louise Kelly.

Front and back views of an unusual vintage Rainier National Park blanket, which has bands of wildflowers instead of stripes.

The label identified it as a Rainier National Park blanket, but it’s so very different from our current version that we knew it was a special treasure.

Photo of a blanket label for a Rainier National Park blanket from the 1940s.

A Blanket Expert

We reached out to our National Park blanket expert, Fred Coldwell of Denver, Colorado. He identified the blanket right away. Here is his information:

The blanket is Pendleton’s very first Rainier National Park Blanket, No. 18, introduced on February 1, 1928. It had overstitched ends and a border design of flowers (lupine, paint brush and daisy) on one of three color bodies (white, light blue or moss green).

Photo of the blanket border with three flowers are found on Mt. Rainier in these subspecies: Broadleaf Lupine, Dwarf Lupine, Magenta Paintbrush, Scarlet Paintbrush, Subalpine Daisy.

These three flowers are found on Mt. Rainier in these subspecies: Broadleaf Lupine, Dwarf Lupine, Magenta Paintbrush, Scarlet Paintbrush, Subalpine Daisy. They can be seen here under Subalpine flowers in the Blue/Purple Pink/Red folders.

Back to the blanket. Four points (indicating the 66″ x 80″ size) were sewn into the lower left hand corner of the blanket’s large center field. This blanket came in only one size, 66″ x 80″, and was made with virgin wool on a cotton warp. It was wrapped in paper for packing. The wholesale price was $9.00 in 1928 and 1929. This Rainier Park Blanket is listed in Pendleton’s February 1, 1928 Wholesale Price List No. 6 and in the March 1, 1929 Wholesale Price List No. 8. But it had disappeared by 1934-35 when retail Catalog No. 11 was issued. I have no information about it from late 1929 to 1933, but I imagine it was a casualty of the early 1930s Depression.

Ms. Goodman was thrilled to have Fred Coldwell’s information. When we asked her if she’d like to share the blanket on our blog, it spurred her to do some serious family research; not just the names, dates, family tree kind of research, but research into her grandmother’s story. How did she come to the Northwest? How did this blanket tie into her life? The story of a blanket is also the story of the person who owned it.

Louise Kelly

We would like to share Louise’s story, as told by her granddaughter.

My grandmother, Louise Kelly, was born on October 26, 1906 to John and Mattie (Landreth) Evans in Taberville, MO. Like many families of this era, Louise had eleven brothers and sisters. She rode a horse to school and purchased school supplies by exchanging farm eggs at the store. Once she’d finished eighth grade, Louise (at age 12 or 13) had to stay home to care for all the other small children in the family. Some of her brothers were never able to attend school. They stayed to work the farm with their father.

Louise married at the age of 24 and gave birth to her first child (my mother, Wilma) in 1931. My uncle was born a few years later. The family farmed, raised chickens, made their own blankets and clothes, and preserved fruits and vegetables. They managed to survive the Great Depression and were looking at a new future when this photo was taken of Louise in 1941 near Mt. Rainier on a trip to Yakima, Washington.

A vintage photo of Louise Kelly standing in front of Mt. Rainier.

(Louise Kelly, 1941)

The family was taken with the West. Eight years later, the family finally saved enough to move there, settling in Zillah, Washington. My mother was a senior in high school when her father suffered a heart attack. My grandmother Louise found herself widowed with two teenagers. She worked two jobs to support her family, running her own morning café and cooking at another restaurant at night. 

Wearing their waitress uniforms, Louise [left] and her daughter Wilma [right] in front of Louise’s café.

(Louise [left] and her daughter Wilma [right] in front of Louise’s café [obviously the dog didn’t want to be in the photo])

Percy Kelly was a business man who enjoyed breakfast every morning at my grandmother’s café. He was a potato dealer – buying potatoes right from the field, sorting and bagging them in a warehouse in Toppenish, WA, then shipping by rail using “ice” stops along the way to keep the potatoes cool. He had also lost his wife in 1949. Percy asked Louise out on a date, but she was too busy with work and family. One day at the café, Percy took off his suit jacket, rolled up his shirt sleeves and started to wash dishes with Louise just so he could spend time with her. That was the beginning of their love story, and how this beautiful Pendleton Mt. Rainier Blanket came into my possession.

Percy (who I knew as Papa) and Louise were married in 1951 and moved to the Columbia Basin in 1952. They grew potatoes near Winchester, Washington. Papa was a member of the Washington State Potato Commission. They built their own potato storage and started to ship potatoes. This was the beginning of their potato empire, and their life together. Percy had two daughters who were still in high school at the time. My mother started college and her brother enlisted in the Army.

Louise always loved Mt. Rainier. This photo of the mountain and a CCC camp at its base hung on the wall of her home for most of her life.

Louise always loved Mt. Rainier. This photo of the mountain and a CCC camp at its base hung on the wall of her home for most of her life.

It is possible that the Mt. Rainier Park blanket was a wedding gift to Louise and Percy, but more than likely it was a wedding gift for Percy and his first wife in 1929. The blanket remained in the family all of these years. It was often stored in a cedar trunk that came into my possession in 1999 when Louise passed away. “Percy loved beautiful handcrafted things,” his daughter, Jeanette Burk, recently told me in a phone conversation. “He liked well-crafted items made of leather and wool, and he definitely would have wanted this blanket for his family.”

A Story Lives On

So that is the story of one National Park Blanket and the person (and family) it belonged to.  The blanket spends most of its time displayed in Judy’s Oregon home. Currently, the blanket  is on display at Wallowology (www.wallowology.org) where Judy works. Above it is Louise’s Pendleton 49’er jacket, a beauty that appears to have all its original shell buttons—a rarity. You can pay both of these treasures a visit if you’re in the neighborhood.

Louise Kelly's Rainier National park blanket and her Pendleton '49er on display.

Our thanks to Judy for sharing her grandmother’s story and her photos.

 

 

The Pendleton ’49er for Fall 2018

Quality Never Goes Out of Style

The Pendleton 49’er is a perfect illustration of the adage that quality never goes out of style.

A young woman sits on some wooden steps, wearing a Pendleton 49'er wool shirt jacket.

This American classic is still going strong after more than sixty years. But where did it come from?

A vintage Pendleton ad that shows a variety of Pendleton wool plaid pieces, including the Pendleton 49'er jacket.

49’er History

The answer starts with the changes for women in World War II, when American women proclaimed, “We can do it.” This iconic WWII image was used in countless posters and bond drives during WWII. A serious woman dressed for hard work with her hair in a kerchief, the image still fixes us today, gazing out at onlookers over a flexed bicep.

The Rosie the Riveter poster from WWII, with the caption "We Can Do It!" A woman on the assembly line flexes her arm to show her strength.

She was a symbol of women stepping up to fill the need for factory workers during wartime, but she was also part of the emergence of one of Pendleton’s most enduring items of womenswear: the 49’er jacket.

Pendleton’s success with men’s shirts had happened twenty years earlier, but during WWII, men were not the only people enjoying distinctive plaids and ombres in pure virgin wool. Women began to borrow men’s work shirts for both work and warmth. It’s possible that by wearing their husband’s shirts, women kept the memories of their husbands, fiancés and brothers close, though many undoubtedly needed some serious work wear that was simply not available for women at the time. Whatever the reason, women loved Pendleton shirts.

In 1949, when market research identified an opportunity for sportswear for women, Pendleton entered the market with their first women’s line. This was a test offering of classic skirts, jackets and shirt, to test exactly how the American woman would react to a branded line of virgin wool sportswear. The positive response was resounding, but no one could have predicted the enormous success of a single garment introduced that year.

Says Linda Parker, head of Pendleton Communications, “The first women’s line in 1949 was composed of five items.  It is amazing to me that out of such a limited initial offering that the ’49er would develop such an immediate following and reputation.”  The jacket referred to both the year of its introduction, and the California Gold Rush, in a nod to Pendleton’s Western roots.

The designer was Berte Wiechmann, a young woman who came to Pendleton from Jantzen,  another iconic Portland apparel company. Miss Wiechmann sewed the original samples herself, taking styling particulars from the Pendleton men’s shirt. The ’49er jacket featured discreet tucking at the yoke, and two bias-cut patch pockets near the hem. The boxy cut showcased Pendleton’s famous plaids, and larger iridescent shell buttons softened the look.

Miss Weichmann was very particular about these buttons. She insisted on a special black shell from Australia and Tahiti, supplied by J. Carnucci & Sons, NJ.

In 1956 alone, Pendleton would use $150,000.00 worth of these buttons.

Yes. You read that correctly. One hundred and fifty thousand dollars worth of buttons alone, in 1956.

The desirability of the ’49er was immediate, despite the introductory retail price range of $14.95 to $17.95. Says Parker, “We have many testimonials of how young women saved their babysitting and strawberry-picking money in order to buy a ’49er.  Women everywhere had it on their wish list of gifts.” The first consumer was the collegiate girl, who were in the grips of a menswear inspired trend. The ’49er was perfect over a white cotton dress shirt over “trews,” narrow wool pants.

The first print ad for the ’49er ad was done by Fred Love in 1950. A college girl in a MacLamond tartan ’49er pretends to ignore the cartoonish interest of the college boy behind her, snug and stylish in her ’49er. Love continued to illustrate the ads through 1951, when famed illustrator Ted Rand took over the job of communicating the Pendleton ’49er with ads that are still iconically beautiful. He changed the focus from the teenager to the woman, and incorporated elements of the Western landscape when he could.

The first Pendleton ad for Womenswear featured a drawing of a "college coed" in her Pendleton plaid pieces, with the caption, "Stunning News - Pendleton Add-a-piece Casuals."

The ’49er’s simple, casual styling continued to be a perfect fit for the emerging suburban lifestyle of post-war America. During the post-war years, it served as one of the easiest solutions for outerwear over all the Baby Boom baby bumps. Parker explains, “I personally think that Ted Rand shares some of the kudos for making the ’49er a household name with his inspired illustrations.”

An Artistic Genius

A classic vintage ad for Pendleton sportswear from 1952, featuring a Pendleton 49'er jacket, art by Ted Rand.

Another classic vintage ad for Pendleton sportswear from 1957, featuring a Pendleton 49'er jacket, art by Ted Rand.

Ted Rand began illustrating Pendleton ads in 1953. His elegant women and echoes of the Western landscape moved the jacket from the campus to the suburbs, where it became the staple of a woman’s wardrobe. The popularity soared and knock-offs abounded, to the point where the company had to seek legal protection of the design. Yes, the ’49er is a patented jacket!

From the Archives

The earliest ’49er in the Pendleton archives is a red, yellow and chartreuse version owned by Mrs. Sarah Brourink, who sent it to our archives in the year 2000 after wearing it for 51 years. Here is a vintage example in the exact plaid.

The original Pendleto 49'er jacket in a bright block plaid.

In the years of its prime (1949-1961), over a million Pendleton ’49ers were sold to American women. And it continues to sell well now, after re-introduction in the early 2000s. Collectors still chase after the originals, and beautiful examples can be seen on elated bloggers. Our re-issues do extremely well whenever they are included in a Fall or Holiday line.  Whether in the arresting brights of a bold Buchanan tartan, or the shaded colors of a subtle ombre plaid, the silhouette is still unmistakable. Still made of 100% virgin wool woven in our USA mills, the ’49er works dressed up with a skirt and a belt, or dressed down with jeans. Like a good wool men’s shirt, it serves as a go-to second layer for the backyard or the office.

Fashion is fleeting, but style endures.

The Pendleton 49’er is a perfect illustration of that.

A young model wears heans and a Pendleton 49'er jacket.

Check out the 49’er here: Pendleton 49’er jacket