In the physical sense, Irene Corey is a slight, understated woman. Eighty years have taken their toll on her petite, five-and-a-half-foot frame. She speaks quietly and chooses her words precisely. Even the modest Junius Heights studio that headquarters her namesake company is unmarked by any identifying sign outside, as if to avoid calling attention to herself. Instead, her work speaks for her.
Corey majored in art at Baylor at a time when not everyone sought a post-high school education, especially women. After studying costume design in London (a semester’s education she had to sell her car to afford), she and her then-husband formed an acting troupe called The Everyman Players. Irene had no desire to act, preferring to remain behind the scenes, where, whether she liked it or not, her costume work drew a great deal of attention. For 20 years, she toured across the United States and Europe with the troupe and their most popular production, a dramatization of the book of Job. “It makes me tired just to think of it,” she says. She drew on her experience to author two highly regarded books on theatrical design and stage make-up.
Having accomplished all she could in theater, Corey recruited her niece, Suzanne Lockridge—who shared her creative passion but had business sense to boot—to co-found Irene Corey Design Associates in 1983. “Irene couldn’t count zeroes, so she made me in charge of the business,” Lockridge says. Together, they constructed life-sized, walk-around character costumes for corporate promotions and puppets for childrens’ programs.
Since their start 23 years ago, the techniques have evolved and the company has grown. ICDA now employs four full- and part-time designers, who have given birth to hundreds of colorful characters, including the Chick-Fil-A cows, the Barney & Friends™ dinosaurs, and mascots for a recent Hurricane Katrina relief fundraiser. Though Corey, now retired, no longer oversees the day-to-day operation of the company, her love of storytelling and her philosophy toward children are still incorporated into the work.
“We never looked down our nose at children,” Corey says. “We never separated them out. They saw our Electra. They saw our Shakespeare. These characters are fun to bring to life. But they’re only important if they have something to say that’s worthwhile.”