ROCK HILL — The Rutledge Gallery at Winthrop University is hosting “Between the Springmaid Sheets,” an exhibit inspired by Springs Cotton Mills’ advertisements in the 1940s.
The advertisements were launched by Col. Elliott White Springs in the 1940s and widely considered to be risqué for the times.
The advertisements depict pin-up style illustrations of women by famous illustrators, including Montgomery Flagg and Wales Turner. Visitors to the gallery can view the original maquettes rendered by the illustrators.
“We’re looking at the original work and the context of them as artwork, learning about the illustrators, looking at the advertisements and the process of how the original artwork ends up in the pages of a magazine,” said gallery director Karen Derksen.
The exhibit also takes a look at the context of the advertisements and why they were created at that particular time in history.
In the early 1930s, Derksen said, with the advent of Esquire magazine, men became targeted in advertising campaigns. “Sultry’ women were used for advertisements and the pin-up genre boomed. Trade publications in particular were a “bachelor culture,” she said.
Pin-up calendars and matchbooks were often given to men in business industry because “what better way to get men in business to remember your phone number or your logo? You put it on something they want to keep around,” Derksen said.
Springs was likely exposed to that kind of advertising as the head of a large textile company, but instead of following suit and keeping the pin-up style woman in the realm of the businessman, Springs took the idea into mainstream media.
“He marks history. He had a way of doing it in a tasteful way, going off the pin-up idea, but to bring it into the mainstream. He combined wit and humor with the socially charged image and brought it into mainstream media,” Derksen said.
Last year, a group of women who were models for the ads were invited to a reunion at the White Homestead, which was Col. Springs’ Fort Mill residence.
One of the most controversial of the Springs’ advertisements depicted a sleepy-eyed Native American man in a hammock fashioned from a bed sheet. A young woman appears to be stepping into or out of the hammock. The tag line says, ‘A buck well spent on a Springmaid sheet.”
“It was to get the charge he needed,” Derksen said. “The Colonel was quoted as saying ‘Sheets are an inherently uninteresting product,’ It’s a bed sheet. How do you get 200 readers in the Saturday Evening Post to stop and read your ad? So the direction he went was with shock value.”
That shock value resulted in a campaign that is still remembered among top advertisers and in the marketing industry today.
“The Springmaid ‘Between the Sheets’ exhibits the jovial but effective way the Colonel was able to pioneer the advertising medium of that era. The amazing accomplishment however is that many of these ads are still referred to today in current marketing academic materials,” said Derick Close, CEO of Springs Creative products.
“Being the first U.S. company to advertise in Playboy is another sign of the Colonel’s flippant dismissal of authority. The ribald ads and vehicles like the Acousticot Bed are part of the marketing materials we use currently at Springs Creative.”
The exhibit runs until Oct. 26 at the Rutledge Gallery. Winthrop University will also host a screening of the SCETV documentary “Miss. Springmaid” along with a discussion about Colonel Springs, on Sept. 13 from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Dina’s Place in the DiGiorgio Campus Center.