How Frederick Hurten Rhead’s ‘Virginia Rose’ went from Cross Plains, Texas to Taylor, Mississippi: “Thank you, Miss Mozelle”

Homer Laughlin China Co. shape ‘Virginia Rose’ designed by Frederick Hurten Rhead, 1932

It gets easier, as we get older

It gets easier to say, “not today”

And it gets easier, as we get older

To say, “go away, not today”

Willie Nelson, It Gets Easier, 2017

You know what I love most about having retired? If you are also retired, you probably know already, but it is that usually, most of the time, I can choose what to do with my time. I have a week’s worth of work to do in the house–more packing, clearing, sorting, giving, throwing away. Instead, I have been sitting here for the last 3 hours, looking up information on the Cross Plains Variety Store of yesteryear, because I like the “back story” in my stories. And as my bestie in high school used to say:

“Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought him back.” (Susie, ca. 1960s)

Sometime in the 1990s, I bought the above bowl in Bryan’s Variety Store, Cross Plains, Texas. There is something about small town variety stores that I enjoy, and there on a back shelf was this bowl. I was in my “fruit days” of collecting, and I selected 2 other bowls–both new, that had fruit designs in the center. They were your typical variety store dishes, but I liked them. There was another woman in the store talking with the saleslady, whom I now speculate was Miss Mozelle. (Mind you, I do not normally call older women “Miss First Name” but it is so common here that I have become all most used to it, and it just seems to fit here.) In 1964, Bryan’s Variety was owned by Lloyd and Mozelle Bryan, and his wife ran the store. Mr. Bryan was appointed postmaster general that year by President Johnson, and was confirmed by the Senate. Mozelle ran the store for 52 years, so conceivably, she could have still been working in the early 90s. She would have been in her early 70s. She seemed rather suspicious of me, and kept glancing at me while she continued to talk with the other woman in the store. She did not speak to me when I walked in, nor ask if she could help me. I would have been noticeable as “you’re not from around here are you?” in a small town where everybody knew everybody.

When I went to pay, she had still never acknowledged me, nor even smiled. One of the things I like to do when I suspect a) someone does not like me, or b) someone is having a difficult day is to attempt to engage them. I smiled and cheerfully said something like, “I collect fruit motifs, and I just love your bowls! These are really nice and I am so excited to find them.” She smiled then and said she was glad, rang me up on her really old cash register, gave me my change, and resumed her non-smiling, suspicious-of-the-stranger persona and returned to the other woman. Every time I looked at the bowl, I would think of her (I did not know who she was at the time) and wonder.

Virginia Rose with small embossed rose design along the scalloped edge

Back to the dish for the moment, Homer Laughlin China Company manufactured this bowl in 1953. Frederick Hurten Rhead was from Hanley, Staffordshire, England and a family of artists and potters. In 1902, he immigrated to New York where his uncle was a graphic designer, and then settled in Ohio, one of the major pottery manufacturing areas. In 1927, he was hired by Homer Laughlin Company as the art designer. He began working on the Virginia Rose shape in 1932, and the first plate in the shape was released November 22, 1932. It was named Virginia Rose November 14, in honor of Virginia Rose Wells, granddaughter of W. E. Wells. W. E. Wells was superintendent of the No. 8 plant of the Homer Laughlin Company in Newell. Virginia Rose entered the freshman year at Wheaton College in 1932. The line was produced from 1932-1968 and used for more decal treatments than any other HLC shape.

Homer Laughlin Virginia Rose, 1932-1968

Curious as to whether the store was still there, I looked at the Cross Plains map. Bryan’s Variety building is still there on Main Street, with the name on the building. Searching the newspaper archives led me to discover the Bryans because of his appointment to the postmaster general of Cross Plains, and the notation that his wife Mozelle ran the variety store. Mrs. Bryan remarried at some time after Lloyd’s death and then ran the store as Mozelle’s. Her second husband predeceased her also. In 2011, the former store was renamed and used as the Mozelle Bryan Community Room. Miss Mozelle died in 2018 at the age of 98 and is buried next to Lloyd in the Cross Plains cemetery. Her obituary said people always treated her with love and respect. In the 9 photographs displayed on her obituary page, she is smiling in most of them. There is one of her standing in front of her store, looking very much as I recall her, her gray hair curled and coifed in the style worn by many women of that time, and wearing a simple dress with a full skirt and a soft pink color with a blue and gold print design and a double strand of blue and gold beads, with a Texas-shaped pin to the left of the beads. Naming a community room for her and the photograph of her smiling daughters and grandchildren surrounding her seem to indicate she was indeed loved. My favorite picture was of her sitting in a church pew, turned slightly toward the side, and smiling at someone. I think I like that memory of her better than the day she was either concerned as to why the stranger dressed in suit and high heels was in her store, or just having a difficult day…or perhaps both.

Now whenever I look at this bowl (which will go nicely in the colors of the new kitchen!), I can think of Miss Mozelle and appreciate her a little more.

This entry was posted in Acts of Restorative Kindness, Callahan County, Kitchen Remodel, Mississippi, Texas, Vintage dishes and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to How Frederick Hurten Rhead’s ‘Virginia Rose’ went from Cross Plains, Texas to Taylor, Mississippi: “Thank you, Miss Mozelle”

  1. Katie says:

    I’m loving all of these pieces and their stories!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Betty says:

    Your post makes me think of two classic sayings:
    1) Maya Angelou – “I learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
    2) Not sure who said – “When someone cheats or mistreats you, it’s about them, not you.”
    However, we’ve all fallen short at some point, and it is wise to give others grace and compassion, as you are doing.
    Love the fruit bowl!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Suzassippi says:

      Thank you, Betty. I agree with #1. As to #2, we have all fallen short and sometimes when we think someone has mistreated us, it might be them, or it might be what we did to give them that perception. I learned that teaching and doing research. Either way, definitely believe grace and compassion is the way to go. We all benefit. As [the as far as I know Miss Mozelle] said, “I am glad” you liked the fruit bowl. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely bowl and lovely story! Research is more fun than sorting out stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Beth says:

    The bowl is timeless and I can see why you were drawn to it. Bryan’s variety store had to be a wonderful place, I always loved variety and 5 & 10 stores as a child. Miss Mozelle’s story made me smile as I think we’ve all encountered someone like her at some time in our lives!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: (Sort of) Found Friday #39: Not Quite Fine China | A Virginia Writer's Diary

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