‘Women, I believe, search for fellow beings who have faced similar struggles, conveyed them in ways a reader can transform into her own life, confirmed desires the reader had hardly acknowledged, desires that now seem possible. Women catch courage from the women whose lives and writings they read, and women call the bearer of that courage friend.’
I quoted this, by Carolyn Heilbrun, literature professor, feminist scholar and closet mystery writer, in my book’s introduction because her comment summed up for me experiences I had during my research and writing about Cipe Pineles: unexpectedly, I found times when her experience informed and enriched mine. We became friends, though we had never met.
In the five years I spent researching and writing about Cipe Pineles, I learned to appreciate the fortuitous and the felicitous: the way she practised her profession, conducted her life, and decisions made by her friends and family. Besides my appreciation of her work, one of the attractions of the project was ready and first access to an archive (all 70 boxes of it). I benefited enormously from others’ generosity, good sense, planning and collecting.
I acknowledge from the start that most of these tips would benefit men’s history as well, but I think you will understand that many are more responsive to the specific problems relating to women in the historical record. The actions suggested would help overcome the lack of a written record, as women have been less likely to achieve, to receive attention, to have papers and possessions valued and saved, to be affiliated with and provided a platform by important institutions. Fortunately with more women in design nowadays and fewer obstacles, problems will become less common.
Who was Cipe Pineles? She was the first independent and influential woman designer in America; she was an artist, illustrator, designer, art director, and design teacher. She won awards for illustration and art direction for several magazines in the 1940s and 50s: Glamour, Seventeen and Charm. Later she taught editorial design at Parsons School of Design in New York for over 25 years.
Pineles was the first woman invited to become a member of the New York Art Directors Club and the first woman admitted to its Hall of Fame. She combined a professional life at the highest levels with a private life involved with design: she was the wife of William Golden, the CBS art director and designer of its eye symbol, and later the wife of Will Burtin, an art director of Fortune, and a corporate and scientific exhibition designer.
Most of Pineles’ awards were for her innovative approach to art direction. For the teenage magazine Seventeen and later for Charm, she raised the level of published images by commissioning fine artists and photographers to illustrate fiction and other stories.
Born in Vienna, Austria to early Zionists, Pineles spent much of her childhood in Poland (surviving a Bolshevik raid during the Russian civil war). Her widowed mother brought three daughters to join two older sons in America in 1923 when Cipe was 15 years old. After showing artistic talent in high school, she attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, within commuting distance of home. Here she became an illustrator.
There would be no book without an affecting narrative arc; when I started I didn’t know how unusual Cipe’s life would turn out to be. For many, immigrant tales have a special attraction. Cipe was one of the plucky ones who learnt English quickly and loved New York from her first harbour view.
Later her struggle for recognition as a woman in the profession provided a new viewpoint; her combination of public and private lives was also instructive as she used the materials of her life for work.
Pineles loved to cook and loved to paint food and cooking equipment. ‘Potatoes’ won a gold medal from the Art Directors Club; tired of food photography she had decided to illustrate the ‘ugly’ subject herself. What was published was her first quick study; the final artwork was overworked and rejected. She and Bill Golden both won gold medals in one year - the first time a couple had done so.
Maintain a clear and consistent professional identity. Too many women have been lost to history (or misplaced too long) because of name changes. You will notice the CP initials signing her illustrations. She loved Bodoni and developed this style; she could actually paint many typefaces very small. Only later as a widow, or when it served her purposes, did she use her either of her husbands’ names; in all her professional years she kept her given name, with Cipe (short for the Hebrew Ciporah) nicely matching the pronunciation of her initials. It was unique and memorable.
Out of Pratt and looking for work, Cipe’s ungendered name may have gotten her portfolio viewed, but at the interview she was rejected for entry into the bullpens of commercial art. Finally she was hired by a collective of European immigrant designers and worked on a textile account. To show off her fabric designs, she made shoebox-sized scenes and clothed the dolls. At an office party Mr Condé Nast, the publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair and House and Garden magazines saw these and sent her to his art director. Dr MF Agha, already legendary in magazine circles, made room for Cipe in his own office. There he groomed her for magazine art direction through discussion and by his own example, which she couldn’t help but observe.
Cipe’s apprenticeship lasted about 15 years with Condé Nast. She was given increasing responsibility, and Agha gave her full credit for awards (no other art director treated his female assistants this way).
Nothing wrong with coat-tails: you learn from the best, acquire useful mentors, your work gains value by association; and you get to tell stories about them later.
Later on in her own magazines, Pineles collaborated closely with editors as well as artists and photographers. Her open personality, an ability to schmooze, and a professionalism that directed effort toward the success of the project rather than to her own credit endeared her to many - especially those artists to whom she gave freedom and the assistants who won awards. For her, this was professionally and personally rewarding - these were close friends and co-workers. The relationships made for fascinating interviews; emotion is a good mnemonic.
Seventeen magazine was conceived in 1944 for a market defined by the editor: teenage girls, a demographic group not previously addressed. The experiences and potential of young women were acknowledged and celebrated.
Charm, in 1950 was defined as ‘a magazine for women who work’ - another group not recognised as a useful market because most thought all women returned to the home after war work. Actually there were 19 million women balancing work and home in America.
In both of these magazines, I like to argue that Cipe and her editorial friends, young professional women like their readers, were subversive (to the general culture) in their messages to and representation of women. They made a cultural contribution through their respect for the potential achievements and challenges of these groups and their intent to educate them. Charm can be considered a proto-feminist magazine, 22 years before Ms magazine was launched in the US.
Work that contributes to the public or institutional good is likely to be saved as part of the historical record. After leaving magazines, Pineles was responsible for the promotion of the Parsons School as it developed into a respected educational institution.
Cipe Pineles used her considerable artistic skills for more than delightful illustrations for magazines, family and friends. She also sketched with a brush, working out layout ideas later to be photographed. Or she planned the space of a whole editorial: the sequence of content, both text and images.
History may be populated by those who keep better records or cleaner copies of their work, not necessarily those who have done the best work. Thanks to her penchant for saving, Pineles’ creative thinking can be traced. She kept project files with sketches and correspondence, teaching files and notebooks, clippings of information to share with students or stimulate ideas: all these reveal how she worked.
Cipe had a wholly integrated private and public life; her friends were the artists and photographers who worked with her, and she commissioned her friends who were artists. With marriage to two designers, her whole life was art and design. A commissioned magazine illustration took its inspiration from a wall in Cipe’s own apartment. There are many examples of her home providing images for her publications.
Pineles’ connection to friends is palpable from her private files. Her diaries are wonderful sources for connections and also reveal the stresses of these friendships. It was possible to get a sense of her professional day through calendars containing notes, lists of calls to make, estimates to get, and printing schedules, as well as parties and menus. One of her own projects was to illustrate recipes from her mother’s cookbook: never completed, the pages were used for years as her holiday greeting cards.
Shortly after their marriage, Bill Golden went to Europe with the American Army to art direct military publications. Cipe’s letters describe busy and political times at Condé Nast, enabling me to understand her reaction to changes, right before she lost her job. Other letters to friends and enquiring strangers often expressed her annoyance at professional slights or required her to clarify facts.
Cipe kept copies of her correspondence. Having the archives of her husbands’ along with her own is invaluable for their interconnections (her war letters were with Golden’s materials). Photographs are so tantalising. There were many taken by Bill Golden, but living friends, now elderly, can remember the event or the face, not the name.
Pineles taught at Parsons until she was over 75, and she didn’t choose to retire. Her student projects got published; she helped many students with jobs and contacts. The yearbook project was redefined each year; the most successful one even published in a trade edition.
The publication design class produced a real object each Spring. She often hired former students to work with her on Parsons’ promotional projects; these students were good sources for her teaching and working methods.
Besides good work, teaching may be the best route to history - institutional connections and a good relationship with students will do wonders for one’s legacy, providing a fund of information and charming anecdotes. Here your ideas are expressed, applied and sent out into the world. Parsons’ growth in the 1970s from a small art school into a design college attached to a research institution was communicated to the world in publications that were noted and remembered, designed by Cipe working closely with school leaders.
Throughout her career, Cipe was an active participant in professional groups and their activities. She was often the only woman on the jury or panel. She understood her pioneering role and shared information and insights; she played by the rules of the professional game created by her male colleagues. She was a role model for other women in the field. After both her husbands made the Hall of Fame, she was admitted.
Pineles was always gracious to those writing about her. There were two major articles written about her during her lifetime and several more focused on specific projects. The last article appeared with her illustration of favourite things on the cover.
She traveled with a friend to Russia in the late 1930s; she painted a personal report on this trip and gave it to her companion. I discovered the trip and the book during our interview and was able to borrow the book long enough to take slides. It’s about two young women having fun on shipboard, fending off advances, seeing Stalin’s Russia, and later shopping in Paris.
Pineles was generous and helpful. Her friends and family spent a lot of time with me and dredged their memories. One artist happened to live in the same house with the same phone number, 30 years after the date on a letter found in the archives. Fifty of her friends were pleased with the prospect of a book and happy to cooperate.
Cipe had a long life and lived in one house, with a huge attic for most of her adult life. She was a pack rat and had the space to indulge this. She was the widow of two prominent designers and retained control of their records; she was well aware of their importance and cooperated with many writers and historians over the years. She had a lover late in life and his family cooperated with interest and interviews.
Cipe outlived her husbands, her lover, and many of her friends, and she gathered up the materials. She discussed these materials with researchers from Rochester Institute of Technology, where they had established a graphic design archive of American materials. After her death in 1991, her children were far-sighted enough to give the archives of the three designers to RIT with no restrictions. Cipe’s two children were helpful with long interviews, tours of her house, where one of them still lives (and which has remained much the same as she arranged it), and loans of photographs.
Cipe Pineles helped me enormously in writing my book, by her sense of history, her habits of work and preservation, her example of professional collegiality and cooperation, her nurturing of friends and students, and the responsibility she took in making sure the materials would be protected and available.
We all might take on this responsibility for ourselves and for others of significance, and we need to establish and support repositories for the materials related to our field in order to ensure the preservation of our heritage.
Martha Scotford, a book designer and professor of graphic design at North Carolina State University, is author of Cipe Pineles: a Life of Design