Window Dressing

Linda Edwards discusses her 200 windows at Blueberry Hill

With the Pageant opening this week, Linda Edwards shakes her head when asked whether she's going to expand her artistic ambitions to her husband Joe's new entertainment palace. That's a firm no: "I got burned out with the Tivoli and the expansion here (at Blueberry Hill). I don't know how Joe does it. I'm totally in awe of him. He can have 25 balls in the air. It seems as he does more, I do less."

As Joe has expanded the Loop into his own mini-Luxor, Linda has kept her ambitions on a more intimate scale. Since the first Blueberry Hill expansion in 1986, Linda estimates, she has designed close to 200 displays in the window on the corner of Delmar Boulevard and Westgate Avenue. The activity has proved "the perfect thing for me," she says over a bowl of the renowned Loop restaurant's renowned chili. "This window -- it's totally fulfilled me."

Linda's window displays are by turns sly, audacious, campy, vulgar and always artful. If not on the scale of Barney's in Manhattan -- a scale that she would certainly resist -- her window fills a niche in a part of the city that offers the walking-and-gawking pleasures of the boulevard. Each year Linda designs dual tributes to Elvis, on the anniversaries of his death and birth. "That window's gotten more absurd because Elvis has gotten absurd," she says. A living family tableau of the Presleys appears on a hot August night each year -- Momma looking tired in a housedress, Daddy looking a trifle out of place, a young Priscilla with big hair and, one year, Lisa Marie escorting her single-gloved husband, Michael Jackson -- all in a miniature Graceland, with Elvis impersonator Steve Davis, the sole professional performer on show. Linda realizes that most people remember the August window, but she is proud of the more subtle display she designs to commemorate the King's birth each January. One year, she reveals mischievously, in the folds of drapery used for backdrop, she placed lots and lots of pills.

"The window — it's totally fulfilled me," says Linda Edwards.
"The window — it's totally fulfilled me," says Linda Edwards.

Linda is shy and reserved when first sitting down to that bowl of chili. Her light-blond hair is fading lighter. Her wardrobe is counterculture casual. When Linda is given the opportunity to talk about her window, her shy reserve gives way to wide-eyed exuberance. Does she remember the first window? "You bet!" It was a Halloween display called "Witches' Night Out," for which Linda created a witch's bedroom with "several old friends" surrounding a large vanity. "It looked elegant and dirty," she recalls. She and her friends played "beautiful witches, all dressed in black," creating silent scenes every 15 minutes, "I was looking in the mirror adjusting my hat. Jill (Posey-Smith, local rocker and former RFT food writer) was buttoning her blouse." They repeated the tableau from 10 p.m.-midnight, she says, to a growing street audience. A lot of people, "at least 50." Then she asks uncertainly, "Is that a lot of people?"

The sly humor in Linda's artistic expression is found in the details. For "Witches' Night Out," all the hags smoked Salem cigarettes ("You know," she says, "the Salem witches"). For a window promoting a touring production of David Mamet's Oleanna, Linda re-created the playwright's academic battle scene, complete with mannequins as professor and student, a blackboard chalked with Mamet's pointillist dialogue and, finally, one little detail only the most perceptive of viewers would notice: On a Coke can, Linda affixed a tiny bit of fake hair, referencing the living drama (or comedy) of sexual harassment from the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.

One of Linda's most memorable, and wickedly clever, window scenes followed the mass suicide of Heaven's Gate cult members. "When I was reading a story about it, I saw it in my head," she says. "I thought it would be so easy to do. They lived in houses that didn't have any decorations. All the props were easy to gather up." That window was one of those rare, and exhilarating, shocks to the common Loop stroll. With the perverse cult and its bizarre ritual suicide firmly planted in the mass consciousness by the news media, there on Delmar was a precise representation of the death scene, complete with a mannequin covered with a purple shroud and sporting Nike shoes; beside the body were a bottle of Absolut vodka, a vial of pills and a duffel bag.

Linda recalls charges of bad taste from "people who were sensitive about death," but, she argues, the members of Heaven's Gate chose their fate, so, "sayonara, good luck." She remembers her assistant carrying the duffel bag and singing, "My bags are packed/I'm ready to go ..."

Linda's preferred medium of expression is the found object, and not just with regard to her inanimate props. Her children have played everything from Lisa Marie Presley to the Dionne quints -- a perfect subject for the window, says Linda, because the quintuplets "were raised behind glass; we all dressed as 2-year-olds." Blueberry Hill servers and customers have taken part as well. For one display, Linda invented a group called the Kick-Start Stitchers: "I thought it would be funny to have a motorcycle club who were also quilters." She mentions a Blueberry Hill regular, a Valkyrie-riding biker named Tony whom she coaxed into sitting in the window, in full biker regalia, stitching quilt squares.

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