It was almost 50 years ago that an Auburn University student came to work in the art department of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.
“I worked there over two years,” said Raymond Waites, now a designer based in New York City.
“I had a summer job there and on the first day I came to work in the art department, I got a phone call that said my father had passed away,” Waites said. “I got back to Demopolis (Alabama, where he was born and reared). I had to hold off for a while, but my mother and sister both moved to Columbus.”
He said he did a lot of photo retouching, which is no longer done in newspapers.
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“Mary Margaret Byrne was the (society) editor and she would bring these pictures to me and say, ‘Oh, Raymond, this is such a really cute girl. But this is such an unfortunate picture. Can you make her look better?’ I would touch up her hair, put eye make-up on her. Then Mary Margaret would bring another picture and say, ‘She’s really put on a lot of weight. Can’t you take off a little of it?’ So I gave her nice, thin legs. But then it was deadline. It got printed — this girl with a nice slim body and legs and big socks where I didn’t have time to get to. I never forgot that one.
“Those were the fun days.”
While working at the Ledger-Enquirer, he got involved in the Columbus Little Theatre, and was part of the group that helped saved the Springer Opera House from the wrecking ball.
“I acted, too,” Waites said. “If you go back into the history of your archives, in the society pages, you’ll find my picture in ‘The Boyfriend.’ “
Waites said the time he spent in Columbus was an important time for him.
“I actually grew up,” he said. “It was one of the best experiences in my life. I was so shy and so scared of people. After I went back to college after my stint there, I was much more outgoing.
“I got such hands-on experience in the art department that I just breezed through all my college classes. I knew so much about printing and the professional side of the industry.
“Looking back on it, if I hadn’t had those experiences, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to move to New York.”
He graduated from Auburn in 1964, and was accepted to Pratt Institute in New York, where he studied art.
When he gets to Auburn next week, Waites will meet with art students.
“I will give them an overview of my professional life,” he said. “I have been very fortunate to have been involved in many things. I want to convey that to the students.”
When he’s designing, Waites doesn’t use a computer.
“I still use a pencil and vellum,” he admits. “I’m one of the last dinosaurs. Every design I do, I actually sketch it.”
His latest collection is called “The Remix Revolution.”
“I pull from all levels of time lines,” Waites said. “Everything from Greco-Roman influences to French Louis XV to very contemporary shapes and ideas and fabrics. It has a real tension and conflict between the old and new.”
He said he wouldn’t do a whole room with his pieces, but use one as an accent piece.
Waites’ business partner, Michael Vedra handles the two-dimensional part of Raymond Waites Design Firm, while he takes care of Raymond Waites Couture.
“It’s the higher-end market,” Waites explained. “It’s one-of-a-kind unique furniture as art expression. I’m introducing a big collection with the ‘Remix Revolution’ idea. I’m doing some very contemporary, very edgy furniture.”