Spring is here and Easter is on the way. At this time of year thoughts turn to Peter Rabbit , that beloved bunny created by Beatrix Potter. She is the illustrator and author whose tales showcased the English countryside and brought her cast of characters to life. The Tales of Peter Rabbit was first published in 1902 and has never been out of print since. For 11 years straight I worked on the Marshall Field’s Spring Flower Show in Chicago which was installed in both the State Street and Water Tower stores. I am lucky to have these professionally taken photos (which means not by me) to share with you. It was 1998 when this Beatrix Potter show made it debut so off to the flower filled world of Peter Rabbit and friends we go!
First I’ll give you a brief rundown on how a show of this magnitude comes to be. The Marshall Fields’s folks chose the theme, took care of all the details regarding the props and orchestrated the overall project. Sometimes there was licensing to deal with and strict guidelines to follow. In the case of anything Beatrix Potter this is very true. Peter was the first soft toy to ever be patented and the property holds over 400 licenses. You can’t simply find a local artist to make all the figures – it is all regulated even as to who makes them and where. All the characters in the displays were hand carved and hand painted – quite an investment. SF Productions, based in California and headed by Steve Podesta, handled everything regarding plants and flowers – specing, buying, designing and maintaining. Eight semi trucks packed full of vegetation bought at several nurseries left the Golden State and arrived in Chicago about four days later. We installed all night long into the wee hours for four days – at least sixty people were involved in the whole process. I worked on the window displays and as I’ve said before: “working in Marshall Field’s windows until 5 am causes one to lose their creativity factor very fast”.
The plants and flowers were all kept on the loading dock protected from the cold by a large tent with heaters inside. For most years I stayed on to maintain and freshen all the window displays – and those are some big windows. There was always an unwelcome blast of frigid air as you left the store and entered into the loading dock area. If it was 35 degrees the Chicago crew was crying “heat wave” and we coastal California wimps were whining “it’s freezing”! Anyway, I’m happy to say that every year the plants and people survived the whole production.
As some of you may know Marshall Fields is now Macy’s, much to the disdain of many Chicagoans. There will be many more posts of these spring flower shows to follow in the months to come. Some of the themes include: Curious George, The Flower Fairies and a 3 year run of Monet’s garden. Looking back on these photos makes me think how absolutely beautiful the windows and store always turned out. And what me appreciate them even more … I know how much work (eleven months worth) goes into a show like this.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Beatrix Potter: “I hold that a strongly marked personality can influence descendants for generations.” She was a woman of her words (along with being a conservationist) as she left her farm and property, Hill Top, to the National Trust for all to enjoy.
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Alice in Wonderland in Chicago Steven J. Podesta Peter Rabbit