Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Jim Flora's Coda
In 1943, four years out of the Cincinnati Art Academy, and one year after docking on the east coast, Jim Flora was named Art Director of Columbia Records. His boss, Alex Steinweiss (inventor of the illustrated album cover), had enlisted in the Navy. One of Flora's first directorial fiats was to launch Coda, a monthly new release booklet. Along with catalog details on fresh Columbia platters, Coda contained artist profiles, historical vignettes, and -- most pertinent -- an abundance of Flora visual chicanery. Coda ran from 1943 to 1945, after which it was replaced by The Disc Digest. By then, Flora had been promoted to Advertising Manager, and later to Sales Promotion Manager, positions which afforded him little opportunity to draw. This was a source of creative frustration; Flora was not born to be a bureaucrat. In 1950, having reached his limit of what he called "endless meetings, endless memos, and wrestling with budgets," he resigned, and "bitten by the bug of wanderlust," drove to Mexico with his family in a Hudson sedan. They lived south of the border for a year and a half, mostly in Taxco, amid what he called "picturesque ruins."
After his return to the U.S. in 1951, Flora embarked upon a freelance career in commercial design. One early client was his former employer, Columbia, who hired him to revive and illustrate Coda. A fish-eyed, sax-wailing St. Nick graced the cover of the December 1952 edition. The following year, Flora began designing LP covers for RCA Victor. The Santa handing out those plum assignments was RCA AD Robert M. Jones -- the man who had replaced Flora as Columbia AD in 1945.