Friday, September 04, 2009

A Few More Female Illustrators of the 50's

Actually, that should read "From the 40's, 50's and 60's" - the mid-century period with which this blog concerns itself. In a way I suppose I've been informally collecting the work of female illustrators from that era for several years now, making a mental note of how relatively rarely their work appeared compared with their male counterparts. There were a few (a very few) exceptions. We've examined the careers of some of those exceptions (Lucia Lerner, Barbara Bradley, Naiad Einsel, for instance) and will be looking at some others (Lorraine Fox, Sheilah Beckett and a couple of others) in the near future. But to finish out this week, here are some pieces from other female artists I've come across. In the case of these illustrators, I have only ever located one or a very few examples of their work - and I have no information about most of them (with a couple of exceptions you'll discover at the end of this post).

Nell Reddy

Rita Bernard

Mary Suzuki

Margaret Nielsen

Ginnie Hofmann

Gwen Fremlin

Margaret Fleming

Jane Miller

Jane Oliver

Jane oliver was born in West Haven, Connecticut in 1921. She studied at the Franklin School of Professional Arts on a scholarship for three years. For her work Oliver received the Klein and Grumbacher awards, the Stroud prize, was honoured by the Audubon Artists, the American Watercolor Society, was awarded the medal of Honor from the National Association of Women Artists.

I previously located two pieces by Oliver for Collier's magazine, and the piece below and the the photo of Jane Oliver presented here appeared in the January 1957 issue of American Artist magazine. In the article on her watercolor technique, Oliver describes herself as a "regularly employed artist working in the commercial field." No other details are given.

* My Jane Oliver Flickr set.

Mia Carpenter

Mia Carpenter was born in California in 1933. She studied at Art Center School in L.A. and received her first assignment from Seventeen magazine in 1957. She went on to illustrate for all the major magazines, and in 1962, the year the piece below appeared in Good Housekeeping, Carpenter received a gold medal for advertising from the Society of Illustrators.

Walt Reed's Illustrator in America tells us that Carpenter later worked as a sketch artist for the film industry and for numerous agencies in the Hollywood area.

Over the years I've had numerous requests from artists and educators who wondered if there were any female illustrators during the mid-century period. In a field where there was already woefully little in the way of historical documentation, there clearly was even less information on women artists. Hopefully this week - and the previous posts on other women artist presented here over the last few years - will in some small way rectify that situation.


  1. Thank you so much for putting together this week's series on female illustrators, Lief! Much appreciated. It's been so interesting and enjoyable to find out more about these women. I'm inspired by them all.

  2. I love the colours in the last two pictures, although they are so very different. ;] The girl walking out from the light into the darkness outside is quite striking. Thanks for the series, I enjoyed it a lot!

  3. There's something indescribably feminine in all those pictures.

    Thanks Leif for putting them online.

  4. Anonymous11:07 PM

    Leif, thanks for giving the women their due. I was very pleased to see Mia Carpenter today. Besides the jobs you listed, Ms. Carpenter also became a highly regarded fashion illustrator - especially in Los Angeles. When I attended Art Center in the early 70's, we were taught to draw the idealized female head, face and form using what my Fashion Design teacher referred to as the Mia Carpenter method. I wish I had a copy of it around; should I locate a copy I will pass it along to you. It is a no-miss formula for drawing beautiful women.

    I believe Ms. Carpenter is still alive. I am so pleased to see her given the Today's Inspiration "cover".

  5. Anonymous9:03 AM

    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  6. Thanks everyone for your comments - I'm so happy to hear that you enjoyed this topic :^)

    To Anonymous who commented on Mia Carpenter: I would love to get a copy of that "Mia Carpenter Method" for drawing pretty girls. Clearly Ms. Carpenter is another illustrator whom I ought to devote a week on the blog to. Unfortunately, I have almost no examples of her work.

    If anyone can provide me with some scans, send them to leifpeng[at]gmail[dot]com

  7. Chad Sterling7:48 PM

    Was it by chance that most of these women illustrators seemed to work in a decorative rather than narrative style. I am not familiar with Gwen Fremlin but her work seems to fall into the latter category and seems quite accomplished.No wish to stereotype here but is the gritty tightly realized approach of a Fawcett, Sickles or Briggs mainly a boy thing?