Calendars produced by the Gerlach Barklow Co. were once among the most mass-produced in the country. The women who graced some of them were sometimes called "Gerlach girls" and the Joliet factory in which they were produced took up a city block.
Today, the calendars have mostly been relegated to history. The company closed in 1971, after 64 years in business, and the huge building in which it was located burned to the ground in 1992.
The calendar prints and original artwork, however, remain popular among collectors, two of whom are Tim and Michelle Smith, of Plainfield. The couple's collection was featured in their book Joliet’s Gerlach Barklow Calendar Company (Arcadia, 2009) and will be on display when the Smiths speak at a Plainfield History Society presentation at 7 p.m. Feb. 28 at the Plainfield Township Building.
Much of the artwork on the calendars was not only produced by local artists -- many of whom were women -- but it featured a huge number of local people, according to a news release on the Smiths' upcoming presentation.
“If (Edward) Barklow saw a pretty girl working in his plant or a cute kid playing on the sidewalk, he would ask them to model for calendar paintings,” Tim Smith said. “Lots of people in the area know someone who was on one of the calendars.”
One of the most famous was Lois Delander, the Joliet resident who was Miss America in 1927. She was featured on many Gerlach Barklow calendars, according to the release.
Another was a Joliet man who, at age 90, recently sought out the Smiths to see if they could help him locate the calendar picture he posed for as a boy, the release said.
“It was the Depression and the calendar cost a quarter or fifty cents, so he couldn’t afford to buy it at the time,” Smith said.
Smith was able to find the print, which shows the boy fishing. The man told him he remembered his mother wanting him to change his trousers, which had holes in them, but the artist insisted he be immortalized in his torn pants, the release said.
In its heyday in the 1950s, the factory took up an entire city block at Richards and Washington streets on Joliet's East Side and employed more than 1,500 people.
The calendars were designed to be quality artwork that someone could hang in their home or office in addition to serving as advertising, Smith said.
“The local milk company would order calendars that would hang on the living room wall as art all year long,” he said in the release. “That was a powerful advertisement.”
When the company first started in 1907, there was no way to mass produce color prints so each had to hand-tinted by employees. While the company was amont the first to hire female artists -- among the most famous were Zula Kenyon and Adelaide Hiebel -- they would not let them sign their first names on the prints, the news release said.
“It was thought at the time that no one would buy a calendar that had been designed by a female artist,” Smith said.
These days, their artwork and that done by other Gerlach Barklow artists can go for as much as $100 for a print and $30,000 for an original painting, the release said.
For more information, got http://www.facebook.com/plainfieldhistoricalsociety or call Tim and Michelle Smith at 815-436-4733.