Representation Matters: A Sample of Female Poster Artists

March is Women’s History Month, and from the perspective of a vintage poster dealer and collector, it provides an opportunity to examine the role of women in poster design through the years.

While women were (and are) often the subjects of posters, not many women were poster artists. There were a few notable women who contributed to the field, but not many were hired, which is reflection of the norms of the period. Some women worked as illustrators and graphic artists in print related fields, like magazines and books, but in the early 20th Century few were commissioned to make posters.


JESSIE WILLCOX SMITH (1863-1938)

US-born Jessie Willcox Smith was a prolific illustrator of magazines and books who created posters for National Book Week and for the War Effort.


DOROTHY WAUGH (1896-1996)

After graduating from the Chicago Art Institute, Dorothy Waugh worked in a commercial art studio in Chicago. In addition to her work with children's book publications and teaching, she was production supervisor for the National Park Service, doing copy, layout and artwork. It was here, in the 1930s, that she produced at least 16 national and state park posters.


ETHEL REED (1874-1912)

The Massachusetts-born graphic artist created more than 25 posters, mostly between 1895 and 1896, and was a stand-out amongst her male peers. After great success at a young age, Reed emigrated to London where she died at the age of 38.


MABEL LUCIE ATTWELL (1879-1964)

British artist Mabel Lucie Attwell is best known for her charming illustrations of well-known children’s books, including Mother Goose (1910), Alice in Wonderland (1911), and Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales (1914). However, she also created advertising illustrations for clients, having begun her career in magazines.


WWI CONSERVATION POSTERS

In France, many World War One Conservation Posters were made in 1918 by Parisian school girls aged 13 to 16. These beautiful pieces were created for a state-sponsored competition in early 1918 and are prized by collectors. There are a total of 16 posters in the series, including those which encourage the population to Save Tobacco, Save Wheat, Save Wine, Eat Fish, Eat Potatoes, Cultivate a Garden, etc.


MARIA NESTEROVA-BERZINA (1897–1965)

Born in Moscow, Maria Nesterova-Berzina was a graphic designer who worked mostly in agitprop posters design. Among her best-known works are the 1930s advertising posters, especially the iconic Visit the Resorts of the USSR.


The Modern Era

LEFOR-OPENO

In the 1950s and 1960s, Marie Claire Lefort and Marie Francine Oppeneau produced a series of bold posters. The two women met in art school, and then studied together at the Ecole Paul Colin in Paris. They produced charming posters for the Loterie Nationale, Charles De Gaulle’s political campaign and other commissions under the pseudonym Lefor-Openo. Marie Lefort died in 1971 but her partner Marie Oppeneau opened a gallery in St. Cloud, France in 1980, and another art gallery in Paris in 1990 which she called called Lefor-Openo in honor of her friend and creative partner.


DANUTA ZUKOWSKA (1928- )

Zukowska is one of the few female artists to succeed in the Polish poster scene. She has won many awards for her provoking and bold poster style.


HARUMI YAMAGUCHI (1940- )

The poster world’s pop diva, Yamaguchi partnered with Japan’s PARCO department store in 1972 to develop a series of female figures using airbrush techniques. Throughout the 1970s onward, she established herself as a poster artist that symbolized the era.


Unknown Contributions

Significant numbers of posters over the years have been produced anonymously. One can only wonder how many of these legions of unsigned works came from the creative efforts of women.

To learn more about vintage poster artists of all kinds, visit your local IVDPA member dealer.