Americana Fashion Specialist
The majority of her scarves are based on eight-inch square modules, usually repeated four to eight times to create a rectangular scarf. She explained, “I design in the module, like Frank Lloyd Wright.” This approach created a contemporary look and allowed for efficient production.
Frankie Welch is one of America’s great scarf designers. Like Tammis Keefe and Vera Neumann before her, she created colorful and popular textiles, but instead of cute mid-century imagery or bold 1960s patterns, she drew upon the political themes and corporate identities so iconic of the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. Welch loved incorporating historical elements in her designs as well, ranging from Native American jewelry patterns to architectural details from the White House ceiling, developing a strong Americana motif in her work. A remarkable businesswoman, Welch identified a profitable niche market—custom scarves—and met customer demand with a professional ambition wrapped in a distinctly Southern graciousness.
Frankie Welch was born Mary Frances Barnett in Rome, Georgia. She enjoyed fashion as a youth and had a natural talent for selecting and coordinating outfits. She studied clothing and design at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, married her childhood sweetheart William C. Welch (1921-1975) during World War II and taught elementary school early in her career. When her husband Bill’s graduate studies took them to the University of Wisconsin, she hoped to study with Frank Lloyd Wright, who had a home near Madison, but was told he would not take female students. She did, however, often observe him through her window walking down the street—“His clothes were wonderful—a gray herringbone suit, a beige and chocolate brown cape. He dressed perfectly for his size and image.” She also purchased yards of fabrics designed by Wright for use in her home and heard him lecture many times.
Ashley Callahan is an independent scholar in Athens, Georgia, and the former curator of decorative arts at the Georgia Museum of Art. Her research interests include Georgia decorative arts and modern design in the United States. She easily relates to Frankie Welch’s love of design, history and the South, and enjoyed having the privilege of interviewing her. Callahan appreciates the assistance that Mrs. Welch’s daughter Peggy Welch Williams, the staff of the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the staff of the Rome Area History Museum provided.
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