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Posters That Express the Reality of Being a Woman by Linda Winer

(This article originally appeared in the February 11, 1973 edition of the Chicago Tribune)

The hands that make these posters belong to women, though you won’t see a signature to prove it.
They work in a cluttered, friendly little room in a part of old Belmont Avenue that nobody dares call New Town. They print everything by hand, sell their work for pennies, and find buyers in a segment of American women that grows every day.
If Susan B. Anthony were turning 23—or even 83—instead of 153 on Thursday, she might want a “WOMEN WORKING” poster for the wall above her bloomer drawers.
The Women’s Graphics Collective, which makes these posters and many more, began in the fall of 1970 when a few young Chicagoans banded together in joint despair over their situations as women, as artists, and as women artists. though some of the members have gone and new ones come, the group has developed into a unit very likely unique in this country.
You won't find a signature on any but a few experimental posters because, as the collective’s catalog puts it, “We’re all in charge here.”
The four core members and four more casual ones plan their ideas at gigantic “poster thinks” — sessions in which people toss thoughts around until designs appear. Everyone shares in the dirty work, the silk screen stenciling, printing, and clean-up.
The idea of women jointly cleaning is easier for us to understand than the thought of joint creation. Art, after all, was always supposed to be the expression of some mystical kernel of self, some artistic erogenous zone stimulated in private for the tangible sublimation of the socially sanctioned ego.
These women, however, had enough of that before they found each other. Stilled by the thought of working alone in quest of the “Great Masterpiece,” they decided to combine their talents with their concern for women’s politics, price the objects within nearly everyone’s reach, and address themselves to a new audience that “doesn’t have to know an artist’s name to recognize a ‘good painting.”
They have to drive taxis, paint storefronts, and do commercial ‘graphics to live, but the examples on this page prove how well their message is coming across. The collective studio is up the old marble stairs at a door marked 852 Belmont Av., above a beauty parlor. Almost any time of any day, someone from the collective will be working in Room 8 under the rows of colored clothespins and amid the ink, stencils, silkscreen equipment and nonviolent dogs.
Sometimes the collective members all draw something in their “own styles,” then try each others’—an exercise which Estelle Carol praises for “helping us experience someone else’s vision and making our own burst out in other ways.”
Estelle, whom the group has sent to classes so she can come back and teach the rest, insists she has learned more from the collective effort than in the years she spent at the Art Institute.
Other times they have “grumpy sessions,” in which they can vent the hard feelings inevitable when many minds must agree on one product—though Tibby Lerner says “criticism is so much easier to take when the poster is not one person’s creation.”
Barbara Carrillo, who found it “hell to be a woman artist when females are so seldom encouraged,” adds that emphasis thus shifts from traditional competition to “the more good stuff the better.”
Leslie Nevraumont got interested after the birth of her daughter, Simone. “Suddenly l was a woman with a child. The whole thing just hit me, like something attached to my leg. l needed day care centers, other help. So the posters express needs that come from concrete personal experiences.”
Tibby agrees: “If we’re doing art that comes from our own lives, then art isn’t a mystical thing that a few people can understand.”
T h e s e four—plus newcomers Nancy Boothe, Susan Galatzer, Wendy Garber, and Cynthia Staples—find posters to be the most inexpensive way to reach a mass audience. They have plans, however, for printing bumper stickers and T-shirts. Greeting cards are already available at $2 for 10.
Their posters, which sell for $1.50, include optimistic messages about sisterhood “blooming” and more militant outcries against inadequate health care, for abortion, against imperialist wars, for lesbian pride, and against calling women chicks.
Some of the more recent ones approach more general issues because “Women can’t just be limited to women’s issues but must be in control about every part of the world.”
A catalog is available by writing the collective, though “tell them we’re sick of getting letters addressed ‘Dear Sir.’ “ Since most of the money from the poster sales goes back into the operation, the collective also will print commercial jobs and will make a silk screen on someone else’s ideas.
Mostly, the women are always looking for new people—either as artists or to help them meet the heavy printing load. They’d like to have enough people to help other collectives start doing their own work.
Interested women should come at 7:30 p.m. Fridays. If possible. You don’t have to know how to silk screen because the collective will teach as the need arises. “You just need patience,” somebody laughed.
Susan B. Anthony, who died 14 years before women got the vote, would understand that one.

Woman symbol