NEWELL - When a cousin sent her an e-mail link to a "CBS Sunday Morning" segment on the Homer Laughlin China Co. a few months ago, the last thing Suzanne Cross expected to see was a familiar face. But there, pictured working in front of stacks of brightly colored Fiesta dinnerware, was her mother, Eileen Brooks Brown.
"I clicked the link and all of a sudden I saw my mother in the picture," said Cross, a Texas resident and Fiestaware aficionado. "They'd used a picture that was on the front of a magazine from 1954. I literally jumped up and ran to the chest of drawers where I kept it, and ran back to the computer and started the video again. I looked at the picture of my mother on the cover, then I'd look at the picture on my computer screen All day long I watched that video. I bet I watched it 20 times that Sunday. The next day when I went to work I called Homer Laughlin."
Brown, who died in 2005, had worked at Homer Laughlin for a little more than 10 years - from 1940-43 in production and then again from 1950 to around 1958 as an IBM card sorter. Her father, Harold V. Brooks Sr., was a "gold liner" - meaning, he painted the gold edging on pieces. Three of her siblings had worked there, too.
MEMORABILIA — Suzanne Cross, left, showed Homer Laughlin Executive Vice President Liz McIlvain a scrapbook and other memorabilia her mother, the late Eileen Brooks Brown, had kept from her years working at the Newell pottery.
On Wednesday, her daughter was at the factory to present an original copy of the 58-year-old magazine, Rohm and Haas Reporter, plus other memorabilia including a 1943 letter, a 1921 pocket calendar and copies of several 1950s-era photos of pottery workers that had been in the Brown family's collection, to Homer Laughlin fourth generation owner Liz McIlvain. The material will be added to the iconic pottery's historical archives.
"As a little girl, my mother would come home from work, my grandfather and aunts would come home from work it was our lives," Cross said. "They loved their jobs. It was the 1940s and 1950s, (and Homer Laughlin) was just such a way of life."
McIlvain, executive vice president at Homer Laughlin, said the company, its workers and their families have always been intertwined, "no matter if they moved to Texas or wherever, Homer Laughlin has touched their lives."
She said the "CBS Sunday Morning" staff months ago had asked Homer Laughlin for vintage photos to use in the segment, which aired in March, and Brown's picture "was one they selected."
"Looking at it, I would say she was a ware dresser," McIlvain said, describing the task as a cleaning process where sharp edges were removed from plates. Brown was photographed in a dress and bib apron, though McIlvain said that wouldn't have been uncommon a half-century ago when people dressing up for work was the norm.
Based on the timeline, McIlvain said they think the photo might have been staged for the benefit of the magazine.
"We had the picture, but we did not have the article," she added, "so it's another piece of Homer Laughlin history that we've been able to retrieve through Suzanne."
In appreciation for Cross's donation of the family memorabilia, McIlvain presented Cross with a specially decorated, limited edition soup tureen commemorating Fiesta's 75th anniversary.
"It's individually numbered, so it makes it more collectable," she told Cross, minutes later explaining the company "had a message added to it, especially for her. The soup tureen will be a memory of today."