By Mellany Armstrong
Gillian Salmon van der Vlugt didn’t want to get out of her father’s Volkswagen bus on her first day at Moore back in 1973.
“There was somebody carrying a giant teddy bear,” she remembered. “I suddenly thought, ‘I don’t think this is the place for me.’”
She didn’t even want to speak to the first student she met, classmate Eileen “Rudy” Rudisill Miller ’77.
“I was wearing little pink hot pants and a cute little matching top,” Miller recalled as they reminisced. The two began finishing each other’s sentences.
“With straps, and she had her hair in a flip,” van der Vlugt said.
“She was wearing her torn blue jeans…”
“Hippy, gauzy, white embroidered blouse,” Miller said. “We were complete opposites. She took one look at me and I asked her name and she wouldn’t even tell me. I had to ask her father.”
That dubious first encounter at the loading dock on Cherry Street turned into a friendship that has lasted for 45 years. The best friends still get together for lunches, movies, James Taylor concerts and “girlfriend days.” They met up at Moore in August to talk about the old days.
Move-in day is stressful, no matter the era, with new faces and new surroundings.
“Teddy bears and flips, not what I was expecting at art school,” van der Vlugt said.
“Gill was ready to high-tail it back to Wilmington,” Miller said. “I was like, ‘This is great!’”
Van der Vlugt said Miller helped her adjust. They were early arrivals and it turned out they were on the same floor across the hall from each other in the dorm.
“Our respective roommates hadn’t arrived yet, we got kind of thrown together and just hung out while we were waiting for them and started to get to know each other,” Miller said.
Van der Vlugt’s father worked for DuPont, and she grew up living in Belgium, Switzerland, Argentina and Mexico. Miller grew up in York, PA, and described her upbringing as “homogenous.”
Miller brought albums of the Four Tops and The Spinners. Van der Vlugt had Dylan and Bonnie Raitt. Miller studied fashion illustration, van der Vlugt was a textile design major. They had no courses together, but they were inseparable outside class. They did everything they could afford to do that the city offered —going to concerts at the Spectrum, movies, frat parties at Penn.
“Our freshman year was when the Flyers won the Stanley Cup,” van der Vlugt said. “It was the only time that they let us out of the dorm past curfew. We went down to City Hall and watched the mayhem.”
They roomed together sophomore year in an off-campus apartment at 23rd and Walnut. “Summers, we would visit each other at beach rentals that our parents had,” van der Vlugt said. “We even fell in love with guys who were roommates who went to (Philadelphia College of Art),” Miller said. Van der Vlugt ended up marrying her boyfriend.
The two friends have stayed close over the years, through careers, marriage and children. Miller is an illustrator and product designer. She uses her fashion illustrator skills to make coloring books and paper doll books for Dover Publications. Van der Vlugt is director of operations at her husband’s Philadelphia advertising agency, Articus Ltd.
“My years at Moore were probably the most creatively enriching years of my life,” Miller said. “My fine art teachers taught me to question things and challenge myself both in life and art. These things have carried me through a long and fulfilling commercial and fine art career.”
Moore taught van der Vlugt to approach problems innovatively.
“The school instilled me with a confidence in my ability to recognize visual opportunities to reach an end goal,” she said. “That confidence has served me well over the years, be it in client discussions and presentations, engaging an audience, in collaboration within a team, and in my personal creative exploration.”
At Moore, they also got something they weren’t expecting: a lifelong friendship.
“Even though we were dressed in different styles and came from somewhat different backgrounds when we first met, it didn’t take long to realize that we were kindred spirits,” Miller said. “And that connection runs deep and true to this day.”
When asked what advice they would give to current Moore students, van der Vlugt said, “Take advantage of opportunities.”
“I was going to say that exact same thing!” Miller said.