Dorothy W. Earp, 97, created lampshades, wrote Govans memoir

April 17, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Dorothy W. Earp, known as the "Shady Lady" for the handcrafted, custom silk lampshades that she created in her home and author of an illustrated monograph about life in Govans in the early days of the last century, died in her sleep Saturday at the Wesley Home in Mount Washington. She was 97.

Born Dorothy LeBrun Worsham in Canton, she moved with her family to a home on Beaumont Avenue in Govans in 1913.

Her father was editor of Baltimore Magazine and a former colleague of H.L. Mencken, when the two were reporters for the old Baltimore Herald, and she recalled the famed writer's visits with the family.

"She remembered Mr. Mencken and often talked about him coming to their house and playing the piano," said a daughter, Ina Earp Johnson of Parkville.

After her 1922 graduation from Towson High School, she studied at the Maryland Institute of Art.

In 1924, she went to work at the Hutzler's downtown department store as an assistant buyer in the art-needlework department, which sold artwork, crafts and imported items. While working at Hutzler's, she learned how to make lingerie cases, handkerchief boxes and silk lampshades.

She married Lester W. Earp in 1925 and left Hutzler's six years later. But she continued designing and making lampshades for customers and several Baltimore shops until 1997.

"She designed pleated and smocked shades with inlaid panels, which were her great love. She bought her silk in New York and all the rest of the work was by hand. She never used a sewing machine," her daughter said.

Mrs. Earp sat at a card table in the living room of her home - in Govans, and later Towson - listening to the television while she "sewed from morning till night," said Mrs. Johnson.

For years, Mrs. Earp kept Roland Park's House of Shades supplied with her handiwork.

"She really was an incredible, lovely and talented person. She used the most beautiful silks, which she washed and stretched by hand, and this took hours and hours to do," said Susan Rowe Gatchell, whose mother, Gene M. Rowe, opened the Deepdene Road shop in 1957.

"What she did was a dying art. Now I have to go to New York to find someone who can do what she did," said Mrs. Gatchell, who operates the shop. "Her work was perfection and always in demand here. It was a sad day when she couldn't make shades for us anymore."

In the 1960s, Mrs. Earp thought back to her childhood in Govans and decided to write an illustrated memoir, which she titled Fifty Years Along York Road: From the Car Barn to Griffins Switch.

"In one vignette, she recalled attending the Govans Movie House, a corrugated structure between Rossiter and Winston avenues that dated to World War I.

"On Saturdays there were special shows for children - it was quite noisy - the boys delighted in running sticks up and down the tin walls," she wrote, recalling the distractions in the audience attempting to watch The Perils of Pauline or other serial feature films.

Mrs. Earp had been a member and past matron for 79 years of the Order of the Eastern Star Tuscana Chapter and was a past president of the Women's Club of Govans.

She was also a lifetime parishioner of Govans Boundary United Methodist Church.

Graveside services will be held at 2:30 p.m. today at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, 200 E. Padonia Road, Timonium.

Mrs. Earp's husband died in 1985.

In addition to Mrs. Johnson, she is survived by another daughter, Ann Earp Barber of Baldwin; three granddaughters; and five great-grandchildren.

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