November 15, 2014 | by Charlotte Strick
A husband-and-wife team and their influential midcentury designs.
Lucky is the designer who can see in both two and three dimensions. Luckier still is she or he to be married to someone with equal gifts—especially if that mate is a collaborator and not a competitor. So appears to have been the case with Dorothy and Otis Shepard, whose enviable creative lives have been captured in the absorbing, moving, and lushly illustrated new book Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream, by Norman Hathaway and Dan Nadel.
Both Dorothy and Shep (his nickname since childhood) got their start as commercial artists during San Francisco’s billboard boom of the 1920s. The Federal Highway Act, signed in 1921, helped fund the expansion of U.S. roadways, and advertisers took the opportunity to reach audiences beyond the traditional black-and-white pages of mail catalogs by posting colorful advertisements along America’s highways. Shep, a veteran of World War I, was a man of great adventure, with a strong and lasting interest in the theater. He was well regarded as a commercial painter while employed as an art director at Foster & Kleiser Outdoor Advertising Company, a top Bay Area agency of the period. In 1927, he wisely hired the gifted and highly praised Dorothy Van Gorder straight out of the California School of Arts and Crafts, from which she had graduated in only three years, as valedictorian. According to family lore, Dorothy was unabashedly outspoken (and just plain unabashed—she was once evicted from an apartment for sunbathing nude on the roof), and it cost her the Foster & Kleiser job, but almost as soon as she was let go, she was rehired for her prized skills. Hathaway and Nadel write that either in spite of or because of Dorothy’s brashness, Shep, the “raconteur,” soon began courting the “young bon vivant.”
And so their joint artistic adventure began—most markedly with a honeymoon in 1929 to Paris, Venice, Zurich, and Vienna. While there, they purchased Bauhaus furniture and had the good fortune to meet the great modernist Joseph Binder, who was a leader in the European abstract graphic style. “Shep and Dorothy already wanted their work to convey meaning through compositional structure—instead of realism,” write Hathaway and Nadel, but Binder’s reduction of “an image to a series of shapes and forms and [integration of] typography into his pictures” helped refine their approach to design and illustration. Both Dorothy and Otis had been following the modernist movement with great interest back home, but seeing this work and the new techniques in person and to scale had a profound and lasting effect on them. Read More »
August 27, 2012 | by Charlotte Strick
Joanna Neborsky is a book lover’s illustrator. She may be as passionate and romantic about books and bookmaking as anyone I’ve met. She also draws the kind of pictures I’ve always wanted to make. They are deceptively simple due to the naive charm of each wobbly line, and they owe a great deal to the inspiration of mid-twentieth-century illustration—an obsession she and I both share. A few years ago Joanna and I collaborated on the cover of John Bowe’s Americans Talk About Love. A recent art school grad, she was willing to endlessly modify caricatures of the people interviewed for the book. The final package made for a witty and accessible take on social history. I always urge the artists I work with to keep me apprised of new projects, and so a few weeks ago I was tickled to discover a jpeg of Joanna’s poster “A Partial Inventory of Gustave Flaubert’s Personal Effects, As Catalogued by M. Lemoel on May 20, 1880, Twelve Days after the Writer’s Death” in my inbox. We had to share it with readers of The Paris Review, and now I wanted to share a little about how it came to be.
August 1, 2012 | by Charlotte Strick
Years ago, while biding my time at a doctor’s office, fortuitously flipping through a stack of well-exhausted magazines, I spotted an article on affordable portraiture. June Glasson was one of the featured artists, and I scribbled her name down and contacted her later to do a drawing of my better half as part of her “Near and Dear” series. My husband and I had many times joked about how we wished we were royalty, deserving of grand portraits. June captured my husband so completely that I’m sometimes taken aback by the likeness. My twin toddlers frequently point to it and announce “Da-da!” with great delight.
June was a natural choice to do illustrations to accompany Rich Cohen’s “Pirate City” essay in the current issue. I’m drawn to her gorgeous layers of colored ink that make using this unforgiving medium look easy. She paints landscapes and people with equal charm and interest. As June lives in Wyoming, she was kind enough to be interviewed via e-mail and to send photographs of an enviable studio space filled with natural light and plenty of inspiration.