Valentine Greetings To You, Whom I Adore
Are you familiar with the early twentieth-century Cleveland artist Juvia Johnson? Perhaps, or perhaps not. You may or may not be celebrating Valentine’s Day, and your celebration may or may not include a card, and if it does, you may or may not plan to make it yourself. If that’s your plan, and you haven’t yet taken action, stop reading now. The hour is late.
If you need inspiration, though, Juvia Johnson might be able to help. So get on over to Hixson’s Floral Barn at 14125 Detroit Avenue, in Lakewood, where you will find an intriguing collection of romantic printed matter, including some of her designs, and a multitude of others, some of which are well over 150 years old.
Hixson’s is not an art gallery, and is nothing like one. It’s crammed with stuff that will help you celebrate a full calendar of holidays. Proprietor Bill Hixson, who will turn 91 this year, was for years a decorator of White House Christmas trees. You can find the place easily by looking for the gigantic Raggedy Anne doll that dominates the front picture window.
Make your way to the very back room, and you will find Mr. Hixson’s vast collection of antique Valentine’s Day cards. The presentation echoes the clutter of the whole store, and the cards are screened by plastic windows to keep your grubby paws off of the fancy old love notes, and some people might find that frustrating. But in hundreds of examples, the collection shows an evolution of design across a couple hundred years. About 30 cards in the collection date from the middle nineteenth century, produced by the Whitney Manufacturing Company, of Worcester, Mass, which grew to buy out many of its competitors, including the New England Valentine Company, which employed Esther Holland, the artist considered by many to be the godmother of Valentine cards in the US.
Other highlights of the collection include a shelf full of Campbell’s Soup Kids valentines, which were created by illustrator Grace Drayton in the early 1900s. They are plump and rosy-cheeked children with great big eyes, begging for approval.
Of the greatest local interest, though, is a shelf dedicated to cards by Juvia Johnson, whose studio was on the top floor of the old Republic Building at East 6th and Euclid Avenue. She sold designs to some of the most famous card companies in the US, and also created her own line with a staff of women who would hand color the cards. She would eventually work for the Halle Company, Corner and Woods, and the old stationery, card, and office supply chain, Burrows.
There are original drawings for some of Johnson’s designs, presented on a bottom shelf, behind a sheet of plastic, which undeniably makes them difficult to appreciate beyond knowing their existence.
Johnson’s designs often feature naked cherubs offering hearts on plates, with language such like “The emblem of true love I give to you, whom I adore,” or (slightly less sexy) “Valentine Greetings, May this little message find you thinking cheerfully of me.”
But again, if it’s inspiration you need, stop this right now and get over there. Valentine’s day is practically here.