Janie Feldman Gross
Janie Feldman was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1952. Her mother grew up on a farm and her father was a jazz musician. Both of those influences charted her career direction – gardening being a huge part of what she does, and she credits her discipline to being raised by a dedicated musician. A love of aesthetics was shown to her by her mother’s gardening skills, and she was exposed to fine arts through an excellent art museum in town. Her life changed drastically in her junior year in high school when her art teacher (Mr. Trippie) recognized her abilities as an artist. He told her to consider graphic design. In her senior year, there was a talent show at the high school and a contest for designing its poster. She won the contest and that made her consider that art was something she could do as a career.
Janie’s parents did not attend college but they were very supportive of her going to college. Her mother had a friend whose daughter was attending Moore College; they had never heard of the college prior to then. Looking back on her undergraduate years, she realizes that it was a great advantage to attend an all women’s college, although it did not attract her to Moore at the time. She met her future husband the first week of college.
One of the most important skills she learned in college was the art of presenting her work. She studied advertising (which is now graphic design) and graduated in 1974. Louise Stahl, the color theorist, inspired Janie, mostly by her sheer enthusiasm for her subject. Libby Lovett Stewart was also a great source of inspiration. Libby was working in the field while teaching, so she was able to introduce the students to professionals in the design field. Janie had a summer internship at TV Guide in their promotions department. Her coworkers encouraged her to enter a contest to design an invitation for a TV Guide event and she won. Winning contests reassured her that she was on the right track. Libby introduced Janie to her mentor, a professional in the pharmaceutical field, where Janie worked for twelve years.
Janie says that Moore is unique in that the professors are both teachers and mentors. They do not just teach in the classroom; they teach outside the classroom. They show students that design is everywhere. Today, Janie still looks everywhere for inspiration in her design work and credits Moore for having fostered that awareness in her.
Upon graduating, she got a job in a publishing company. She knew pretty quickly that she wanted to do freelance. She wanted to be her on boss. She thinks that she learned at Moore the ability to speak up for herself.
Janie went to college prior to the time when computers were used in graphic design. She says she has a love-hate relationship with computers. They make things much easier in some ways, and one can do work much more quickly (she learned to do lettering by hand), but at the same time, doing work more quickly does not mean that you are doing better work. She thinks that young designers who do not have the foundation that she received at Moore are designing things that “look good on the computer” rather than designing things that communicate, which is ultimately what the designer’s job is.
She also felt that in her own career, clients wanted work faster and faster and did not appreciate the work that went into her graphic designs. That is when she knew she was having a career crisis. She read books on career paths and everything said, “Follow your passion.” The one thing that she kept coming back to was gardening. She focused on the flowers that she was growing in her own garden, and then started pressing them. She started to write her thoughts down about the flowers as she was taking them out of the flower press, keeping a journal, and making enlarged images of the flowers. She showed the work to a friend of hers who said, “You ought to write a book!” The project was a blend of everything that she enjoyed – writing, photography, love of flowers. She set out to write the book and present it to a publisher. Because of her skills in graphic design, she was able to make a very comprehensive mock up of the book. The publisher accepted the book within 24 hours and The Afterlife of Flowers was published in 1999.
At the same time as the book project, Janie was studying to become certified as a floral designer. After the book was published, she was asked to teach flower pressing at Longwood Gardens. She has done extensive research on how to press flowers and what types of flowers you can press. Her research was worldwide, and led her to Japan where she saw the most impressive flower pressing, a Japanese technique that keeps the flowers from fading after they are pressed. When the International Pressed Flower Art Society – an organization based in Japan – held a contest to design a new logo, Janie drew upon her background in graphic design to enter the contest and won. After she won the contest, she contacted the society and asked if she could study under Nobuo Sugino, the Japanese Master of Flower Pressing.
Many opportunities that she could not have not foreseen came to Janie after the book was published. Family Circle did a piece on her that led to a call from Martha Stewart’s studio. A year later, she appeared on the Martha Stewart Show. She was also a finalist for the Today Show’s Domestic Diva contest. Another interesting outgrowth of the Afterlife of Flowers was that Janie was approached by a pillow manufacturer who wanted to use her flowers as images on pillows. Kohl’s Department store was the first customer. Janie developed her own company – JG Productions – and a line of ceramicware to follow the success of the pillows. The ceramics line was launched at Bed Bath and Beyond. She has also done a line of stationary products. Images from Janie’s book were used on the set of The Stepford Wives. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society asked her to lecture on her work at the Flower Show, and subsequently asked her to be a judge at the Philadelphia Flower Show.
Now, Janie is going in a new direction in her work, more towards fine arts. She is doing more photography, combined with mixed-media work. She doesn’t know where this will lead, but she wants to trust that doing what she loves will lead her in the right direction. She thinks that some of the most important things she learned at Moore were how to problem-solve and how to sell herself.
Twenty-five years after graduating, Janie became re-involved with Moore. She sent a note to the director of alumnae affairs after her book had been published and Moore welcomed her with open arms. She launched her book tour at Moore. She became involved with the alumnae association and served as president from 2000-2003. One of her goals as president was to locate all of the alumnae. Another goal was for the alumnae to have a voice at the college because that they had so much to offer back to the college. Moore is now including the alumnae more in what is happening. For example, Janie was very supportive of creating The Art Shop at Moore, which benefits the students, the alumnae, and the faculty. She says Moore is all about nurturing women who are artists and helping them to actually develop careers. She learned after coming back to Moore as an alumna that there are opportunities that are still there for her. She wants current students to know that Moore will always be there for them.
In 2006, Janie received the Distinguished Alumnae Award from Moore. “I just think that it says that I’ve come full circle. It’s the kind of thing you wait your whole life for…I’m so honored to have received it.”
“I think leadership traits are a real outgrowth of the foundation we get at Moore. It originated with the concept of having to present your work. The whole concept of defending your work is developing the ability to be a leader. The skills that you have to sell yourself will make you stronger and more self-confident.” She also thinks that Moore graduates who have a very strong work ethic. Moore attracts people who are very serious about their work.
One of the most rewarding experiences for Janie as the owner of her own company is that she was able to hire a Moore graduate last year. She was excited that she was “able to give back” to Moore. Her advice to current undergraduates is “follow your heart.” If you can learn from her story, you’ll see that she her career really began when she did what she loved.
“My involvement with the local art scene in Philadelphia really is devoted and dedicated to Moore, mainly because they gave me my start…I think it’s real important as an alumna to now give back to the place that gave me my beginning… I think it’s also important for Moore to continue to reach out to the alumnae. What Moore does best is help women get careers out in the real world.”