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Their art is for women’s sake by Glenda Sampson (1973)

(Editors Note: This article from Chicago Today discusses women's art collectives with special attention paid to the Chicago Women's Graphics Collective.)

WOMEN'S ART collectives are blooming everywhere now. A group called Artists in Residence has just opened the first feminist art gallery ever in Manhattan, Penelope and Sisters share space and materials in a shop on Fourth Street in Philadelphia, and Womanspace in Los Angeles rents an exhibition hall to provide special low rates for shows by: women painters, photographers, and filmmakers.

In Chicago, tho, the collective has found probably its most complete expression so far in a group of women who work from a tiny studio tucked away above a beauty parlor.

This Women's Graphics Collective, 852 W. Belmont Av., is unique because members design and execute each piece of work together as well as share office space, materials, and a distribution system.

Leslie , one of four original members of the collective, explains their rationale: "People have this image of the artist be slaving away in his own studio, trying to cleats the Great Masterpiece. But women are seldom encouraged to fill this stereotyped role, and personally we feel stifled by it. So we are working to build a new culture based on mutual suggestion and support."

The group's entire output is in the form of silk-screen posters.. ["We believe in producing good art at a price everyone can afford," Leslie says,]

THE IDEAS FOR the posters develop at marathon “poster-thinks” held regularly one a week. Here’s how the process works:

On a particular Friday evening in early spring, a dozen or so women sit in a circle around a big, blank piece of white paper. They have a definite assignment: Come up with a poster to promote a maternity center.

The artists are united in their support for the work of this center, so they are able to proceed directly to. the question of what kind of design they'll use in developing the poster.

"Politically, we're very diverse," says a member named Estelle. "So sometimes half the night is spent arguing about what we can agree to say artistically on a subject like... pollution, the war, abortion, even feminism."

A slogan is decided first. "Let's keep it simple," someone says. "How about:

Give birth in comfort at home...”

"Fine. Let's write it in Spanish, too. A lot of the center's clients don't speak English."

The design must be simple and straightforward to go with the slogan, it is agreed.

Leslie begins sketching. She is a new mother herself, so the others kid her about her "special perspective."

Three human figures appear on the white paper-all female: a mother, a doctor, and a newborn baby. The style is a little like proletarian realism of the '30s.

It looks right, everyone agrees, except... "We need a few softer edges," Estelle suggests. "And the mother looks so grim. She's supposed to be happy, remember? She just had a baby."

THE EDGES ARE softened: The to adult women in the picture take on Madonna-like appearances. Their heads bow, ever so slightly, toward the baby.

Color is discussed. "The faces shouldn't be too pale and WASPish. But we don't want them too dark either, or you won't be able to see the features,"

If a light, gold-brown is used and there's just a hint of almond shape in the women's eyes, the figures will look... well, international, the artists decide. The mother and her child could be black or Oriental or Mexican or maybe even Greek or Italian.

BACKGROUND SHADING will be decided later when the silk-screen stenciling is finished. Everyone will share in the printing and in the cleaning up afterward.

"You see, this way of creating really does work," Leslie says to a visitor. Her face beams with the enthusiasm of the new project,

"Instant feedback from professionals you respect just naturally makes ideas come faster," adds Estelle.

"Besides," says Tibby, another member, “you feel so much accomplishment when you can point to 10 posters and say ‘I worked on all of those’ in the time you would have needed to do just one piece working alone.”

MOST OF THE collective's work so far has been directly or indirectly political, more often than not related specifically to the women's movement.

"We're beginning to break away from that now, tho, a little," says Estelle, "as the group gets larger." They're also considering printing the private work of individual members occasionally, and they have thought of making some T-shirts and bumper stickers.

Estelle and Tibby are paid by the collective to do necessary administrative tasks but nearly all the remaining money from sales is poured back into materials or expansion of facilities. "We're getting a darkroom next month," says Tibby. "Until now, we've had to use my bathtub."

Group members take various odd jobs- from taxi driving to carpentry to bread baking- to pay individual rents and buy groceries. "Our goal," says: Estelle with crossed fingers, "Is someday to make this place our sole support.”

CATALOGS OF THEIR products are distributed for mail order, and ads are placed in women’s magazines, underground papers, and community bulletin boards. Posters [$1.50 each] are also sold on contract to bookstores.

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