1930s Depression: Surviving on pins and needles: Parable for weathering our modern-day crisis

| June 3, 2020 | 0 Comments

JOAN ALLEMAND says the Depression-era pincushion project can teach how to help weather the COVID-19 crisis of the present day.

It’s a simple pincushion, standing 10 inches high, made of cardboard and covered with fabric. But, it was a lifesaver for Joan Allemand and her family in 1930 during the Great Depression.

Her mother would sell each one for a whopping 50 cents — and when she sold 12, that was “a whole week’s wages!” Allemand, 89, told us last month.

Today, Allemand lives in Miracle Mile, but lessons learned in a small village south of Chicago all those years ago can teach us how to weather our modern-day crisis, she says.

Allemand’s father worked in construction, building highways and homes on a fourth grade education, until the job market dried up.

“My parents were out of work. I was a new baby, and my father took care of me and my three-year-old brother.”

Her mother found a job on a farm, earning $6 a week plus butter, eggs and milk for her growing family.

SEWING CHAIR design came in handy during the 1930s Great Depression.

Allemand’s grandmother had made the first pincushion — the family called it a “sewing chair” — and her mother made two smaller ones as gifts, from one yard of fabric.

“Each one cost about 7 cents apiece to make. …

“One day when my mother came home from work, my dad was taking care of my brother Kenneth and me. He
had made 12 of these little sewing chairs and had them sitting on top of the davenport. They looked so cute, she thought that she could sell them.”

So, her mother took them to a nearby upscale neighborhood and, going door-to-door, sold each one.

The compact design had a thimble tucked in a side pocket, scissors in the back, thread stored under the seat and pins pricked in the seat cushion.

Her mother, who would eventually become a hospital nurse and treat tuberculosis patients, years later sent one of the sewing chairs to Joan, with a note:

“Dad kept making chairs, and I worked! We paid ALL our bills, kept food on the table, & NEVER WERE ON RELIEF!

“When he went back to work, I quit my job. These little chairs have always been a fond part of our lives, so I hope you enjoy having one. Love, & Fond Memories, Dad & Mom.”

Joan’s father also was handy with the laundry, according to another note from her mom:

“On Sunday night, after I left for my job, and he had baby you and Kenneth tucked into bed, he’d do the weekly wash and hang it out!

“All the neighbor ladies sure envied him. No matter how early they did their Monday wash, [he] had his on the line before they did. He was quite a sharpie! Ha! Love, Mom.”

Her parents worked “very, very hard,” said Allemand. “It was pounded into us to never take money and to work hard.”

It’s a lesson Allemand has carried with her throughout her life. She came to Los Angeles in 1960, earned a doctorate in art history from UCLA, and she taught art at Beverly Hills High School.

With her then-husband, Denis Allemand (an architect, who had worked at Welton Becket and Associates), she opened an interior design company, Denis Allemand & Assoc. The couple designed interiors for hotels, restaurants, airports and shopping malls.

JUNIOR DUCK STAMP for 2020 is a wood duck painted by Madison Grimm, age 13, from South Dakota.

In 1989, she created the Federal Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program for kindergarten through 12th graders (this year’s winning duck stamp will go on sale June 26), and, she is now completing an abstract drawing program for Kindle for high school and college students.

Joan has visited every continent and traveled to 100 countries over her lifetime.

And, she gives a mean party.

“I usually have a fabulous July 4th party and a December one.” She’s already planning her next one for when the coronavirus is over.

“My invite list contains former art students from Beverly Hills, artists, actors, writers, photographers, teachers, neighbors and the post office lady.”

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