All She Wrote: Farewell to a muse

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by Nicole CrewsNicole_Crews_01

JoAnn Crews, of 201 Salem Street, Thomasville, NC, died at home on Thursday, May 28, 2015.

Born JoAnn Pappas, she was the youngest of five children born to a Greek immigrant shopkeeper and Canadian seamstress in Duluth, Minn. in 1931. A “driven woman” — as females were then referred to when they eschewed early marriage — JoAnn graduated from the University of Minnesota with an art degree and set out for New York. She taught art to support herself and enrolled at what is now Parsons the New School for Design to study furniture and interior design. Her cousin, Margie Leftcourt, worked in fashion and got her a gig as a fit model for designer Pauline Trigere.

“When I moved to New York I had three blouses and two skirts and rotated them endlessly,” said JoAnn, “I ate and dressed like a French woman before anybody wrote about it.”

A fortuitous meeting at Parsons with Kay Lambeth of Erwin Lambeth Furniture brought JoAnn south in the late 1950s where she entered the field of furniture design and interior design as a rare female. (“I never understood feminists because I was too busy working,” is a favorite quote.)

“When I went to work for Bernhardt I remember John Christian Bernhardt’s wife telling me that ‘ladies in the South did not wear black, nor wear eyeliner’ — and she took me to Montaldo’s and bought me a pink A-line dress with a green-and-white block-print scarf. I felt like an ice-cream cone,” said JoAnn.

Through the years she designed high-end upholstery and showrooms for Bernhardt, Tomlinson, Century, Dansen Contemporary, Lane and many more. She created fabrics for several houses and worked as a consultant well into her seventies.

JoAnn Crews, mother and muse to the columnist, is gone but her inspiration lives on.
JoAnn Crews, mother and muse to the columnist, is gone but her inspiration lives on.

She was an active member of the American Society of Furniture Designers (ASFD) and the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Her work has been included on the cover of Architectural Digest, in Southern Living, 1001 Home Decorating Ideas, Metropolitan Home and Good Housekeeping, among others. Her own home, an antebellum farmhouse belonging to her husband’s family for several generations, has been featured in numerous publications and on home tours.

JoAnn was preceded in death by her husband, William Joseph Crews — a dashing pilot, craftsman and philosopher. The two were married for 23 years before his early death, and courted by Joe flying JoAnn to the Outer Banks for beach landings and picnics. They took their belated working honeymoon to St. Croix with their only child, Nicole, who was 3 years old at the time. Joe was delivering an airplane to a buyer in the islands and JoAnn was bidding on a hotel project. The dashing couple — now a trio — traveled extensively for work and play from Aspen to Athens, New York to Naples, Mexico City to Marseille.

JoAnn is survived by her sister Helen Kensel of Duluth, Minn.; her brother Gordon Pappas of Pleasanton, Calif.; and her daughter Nicole Crews of Greensboro. She was preceded in death by her sister Muriel Salen of Chicago and her brother Walter Pappas of Medford, Ore. Special thanks to her longtime caretaker Tracy Whitley of Thomasville.

In true JoAnn fashion, a cocktail party will take place on June 12 at 5 p.m. at the Thomasville home for friends and family. JoAnn’s ashes will be scattered by at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, donations to Hospice of Davidson County, Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro and your local public library are encouraged.

  • Terri

    A beautiful tribute to an amazing woman.

  • June Erdmier-Salen

    This is just lovely, Nicole! What a beautiful tribute, by you, to your wonderful and special Mother! I will try and share this on Facebook with my other Salen family members who still remember her! Celebrate her life for me, too, on the 12th!

    • Jimmy Powell

      Nicole,

      As always you captured the essence of the situation. Sorry I never had the opportunity to meet your Mother. Surely her creativity was passed directly to you. God bless her and you too. Loved the ice cream cone story. The true beauty of her life lives on with your writings about her because you make us smile.

      Sincerely,
      Jimmy Powell

  • Lori Lovell Bryant

    Nicole what a beautiful tribute to your sweet mother. If we are in town I plan to come on he 12th. Thinking of you friend!