Shirley R. Klein Kleppe
Photography has always been a part of my life; it was introduced to me as a child through my father’s avid amateur interest. When he was a child, he made himself a simple box camera. Later, he bought an Argus 35mm camera with a 50mm lens.
He took photos of everything, but mostly of his family. We patiently posed for him so he could get the picture just right… I can’t tell you how many times my eyes teared up looking into the sun and smiling for Dad!
When I got older I received my first camera, a Kodak Brownie, for my tenth birthday. Under my father’s guidance, I learned the fundamentals of photography and the importance of observation.
He had his own darkroom in a utility room just off of our kitchen. Because he shot mostly black and white Tri-X, he could take a roll during the day and develop the negative strip in the evening: most of the time he would have a dry negative strip or two ready to be printed.
I watched him every time he went to his dark room; I’d sit very still on a stool next to him watching the whole process. I loved the red light! I had a hard time understanding the magic of the photo that amazingly appeared on a white piece of paper.
He printed photo after photo… and I was in charge of passing him the correct piece of trimmed paper for each photo from the black envelope. Afterwards, I placed the wet photos on the clean chrome sheet face down and squeezed the water out. The metal sheet was hooked into a photo drier until they were fully “cooked.”
The best part was getting to see the finished product! We looked at them first and then proudly showed them to the rest of the family; this became a weekly ritual for years.
I never had my own 35mm for many more years, but I had the use of Dad’s old Argus and used it throughout high school and college. I was an art student and photography was a way to capture a single moment in time without having to spend hours in the same place sketching or painting. Gathering reference work was my primary reason to use the camera.
I did manage to squeeze in a regular photography class in college, which enabled me to fully realize the mechanics of photography and how it works. I was off taking photos of things I had never thought to before; I was creating stories with the photos. I did discover that some photos are good by themselves, but do not make very good paintings. Conversely, some photos that are mundane on their own do make excellent paintings. At this point, I was taking photos for two reasons.
After graduating from Central Missouri State University, I accepted a teaching position in Cole Camp, Missouri R-1 Unified School as their art teacher for grades K-12. When the superintendent found out that I had photography and yearbook training, he asked me to be the sponsor. It was an extra $200.00 a year, bringing my salary to a whopping $5,200! That was a real on-the-job training experience for me.
I had a small three-room apartment above a business in ‘downtown’ Cole Camp, Missouri. There was a small storage room between my bedroom and the hallway where my bathroom was. It was there that I set up my darkroom.
Dad had long since given up his darkroom, so I asked to use his old stuff. The enlarger was an old Argus camera mounted on an aluminum vertical slide with a light housing. The black composition photo pans were chipped and old, but usable. Even the photo drier was still working. Dad also told me to buy the film in bulk and roll my own film to save money… which worked great, but I often never knew how many shots I had on a roll!
I shot the school yearbook photos during the day, and developed the film as soon as I got home. Depending on how many photos I had to develop and the yearbook deadlines, I sometimes printed photos long into the night.
One particular night I had a very big deadline to meet, and printed photographs until 4:00 am. I was beat, but you can do a lot more when you’re 21! So then I lay down to take a small rest before having to get ready for school… Bad idea! Around 9:00 am, the school secretary called to find out why I wasn’t in the classroom… after which I was immediately wide-awake! From then on, I made sure to set my alarm before taking a rest after a long night of printing!
The yearbook was a real success. I was even asked by the yearbook company to be a guest speaker at a statewide yearbook conference at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri on yearbook layout. Not bad for a small town art teacher with a closet for a dark room!
I changed schools after that year, and moved to Kansas City. I had been accepted to team teach junior high art with the Turner Unified Schools in Kansas City, Kansas. I also accepted a yearbook position.
By then I had fallen in love with Steve Kleppe, and I was very happy to be living in the same area with him. But I was on summer teacher vacation and Steve worked all day; I was bored. I tried getting a sales job at an art supply store, but the owner turned me down, saying I would never stay there. I decided to try my hand at advertising art cold turkey with only a few college design classes and a good photography background.
Kansas City was a hot bed of artists, cranking out black and white line art everyday for the newspaper and magazines. It is the home of Hallmark Cards, so Kansas City has the draw of Mecca for artists.
Even though there were job calls in the Kansas City Star every day, getting hired was another matter. I decided to create a fake portfolio of advertising art similar to the ones I saw in the newspapers. After several interviews I got a job with a Kansas City advertising agency, claiming I had just graduated from college. I knew nothing about print or what to do… but the advertising team taught me the process, along with catalog production and copy writing. I even shot video for a car commercial! Yikes!
I learned everything on-the-job and met many wonderful professionals that helped me along; I loved commercial art and was good at it. While I feel that that experience was a great first learning situation… I was only able to be there for two months, as I had to report back to school for teacher orientation.
Eventually the truth came out, and I felt like a rat. That advertising company soon closed.
Turner Unified Schools had their district office joined with the junior high where I was teaching, and while the team teaching was wonderful, my experience there was not without issues: I had students pour sugar into my gas tank and flatten all four tires on my car. The social studies teacher across the hall drank Old Crow Whiskey all day while he showed films to his students. At this time, girls were not allowed to wear jeans or slacks to class… which was a grave error, as they ended up wearing skirts so short they showed their underwear, if they even had any!
The yearbook company was pretty cut and dried with very little creativity. I really did very little; the company did everything. During this time, I got married to a wonderful man who appreciated my artistic talents, and left public school teaching for good the following year. I was too discouraged by the uncomfortable environment the aforementioned school situations caused, and how such things were handled by the administration.
Although I had left public school teaching, I still had received enough commercial art experience to get a real advertising job with the Menorah Medical Center in Kansas City Missouri. Since the Medical Center was a teaching hospital, the art department was vital to their organization. We handled many types of promotional pieces from the ground up. They even had their own printing department!
I learned so much from them, and they were always there for me. Their on staff medical illustrator and photographer took me under his wing. I learned so much from being in his studio and listening to what he had to say.
I enjoyed my time with the medical center, but I was expecting our first child and left the hospital.
The years afterwards were occupied with being a mother and homemaker for my husband, son, and daughter. I continued with my watercolor profession, and left photography; I had no camera nor the money to buy one. During my free time I made art for sale at weekend art shows throughout Kansas City. Often times the money I made helped us to buy groceries for the next week! I stayed active with the greater Kansas City Art Organization and met many wonderful artists.
About then, Steve changed jobs several times and ended up taking a job with a local hamburger chain: Smaks Drive In. The chain had decided to open a new store on the border in Brownsville, Texas in a brand new, state-of-the -art shopping mall. Steve had met the operations officer of Smaks through his National Guard group in Kansas City, Missouri. Steve was the Mess Sergeant there and loved to cook, and the Smaks officer loved Steve’s work ethic and cooking ability! He offered Steve the job, and soon we moved to Brownsville.
Those days were difficult and long. We were far away from our friends and family. Steve worked all day and night, with only a nap in between. I took various art classes at a junior college, and sewed the children’s clothes in the evening to take up time.
Then, the main meat supplier for Smaks needed an advertising director and asked me to join his company to make newspaper and commercial ad pieces. He bought me a drawing board, light, rulers, and other equipment, so that I could produce the finished art work at home. I continued in this capacity for several years.
The meat supplier had also been selling meat to a Sonic franchisee in Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley. He was told that Sonic was opening the state of Arizona for development. The meat company owner wanted in on the opportunity, and asked Steve to be his operations man to head up building new Sonic Drive-Ins in Arizona. Being a manager at a small hamburger store in Brownsville was not what we had envisioned in that poor town. We jumped at the opportunity to leave the Rio Grande Valley for Arizona!
Steve worked very hard learning the business, but no one in Arizona had ever heard of Sonic. Those days were slow and bleak.
The hamburger meat supplier/owner decided he no longer wanted to be part of Sonic, and gave everything back to them. We thought we were done in.
However, the powers that be at Sonic thought Steve was a good man and hired him to supervise the remaining company stores in Arizona. Sonic eventually asked Steve to be a corporate employee at their home office in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Steve had been doing recruiting and training for Sonic throughout the U.S., and now Sonic wanted him to be doing hands-on training in house at the corporate office.
We were in Oklahoma for three years with Steve doing many different jobs, including being President of Sonic Restaurants Corporate Stores. Eventually things changed, and Sonic wanted to sell the company stores in Arizona. We were given the opportunity and moved back to Phoenix, Arizona. The rest is history, as we were with Sonic for 40 years and are now retired!
So what was I doing in those years between Arizona to Oklahoma and back to Arizona? Teaching, painting, and winning national shows!
We are also very much into photography, especially on African safari! We use:
Canon R bodies and Sony AR7II bodies; Canon EF lenses: 70-200mm 2.8 L IS USM; 100-400mm 4.5 L IS; 300mm 2.8 L IS II; 24-105mm 4.0 L IS USM; Sony Lenses: 72mm Zeiss Distagon FE 1.4 ZA T*; 55-210mm E 4.5-6.3; Metabones Adapter, Lense On!, Manfrotto MMCOMPACT monopod.