Recognized for setting a new standard for unified creative direction across publications, products and experiences for one of the most influential media phenomena of our era.
In 1990, the art director Gael Towey was asked to help launch a magazine—a how-to about homemaking that broke with convention by putting its founder’s name on the cover. That magazine, Martha Stewart Living, was unusual in other ways. Under Towey’s creative direction, luminous photos and restrained typography portrayed the domestic arts as anything but quaint or dowdy. They were the lyrical expression of one’s highest self.
Martha Stewart Living became an inspiration for our current DIY movement. And it is to Towey’s credit, as well as that of her famously perfectionist boss, that her role in visualizing the joy of creativity was acknowledged from the beginning.
As Stewart’s empire, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSLO), expanded, Towey’s contributions grew with it. She oversaw product development, marketing and advertising for hundreds of Martha Stewart products, working with her husband, the 2014 AIGA Medalist Stephen Doyle, on the branding and packaging of many collections. And she directed and produced videos for “American Made,” an awards program celebrating American makers.
All the while she was at the creative helm of a growing number of Martha Stewart publications, including a digital version of Martha Stewart Living, first published in November 2010, whose award-winning cover presented a peony that blossomed before one’s eyes. Named chief creative officer of MSLO in 2005, Towey also played an important role in the company’s management, especially when legal troubles forced Stewart temporarily to step aside.
Raised in Short Hills, New Jersey, the oldest of six children in an Irish Catholic family, Towey might have seemed destined to work with Stewart, who grew up Polish Catholic and the second of six. They were even born at the same hospital in Jersey City. They began collaborating in the 1980s, when Towey was art director of the Clarkson Potter publishing company and Stewart was capitalizing on her talents as a caterer with books on entertaining.
By the time she met Stewart, Towey had already connected with other monumental figures in publishing. A 1975 graduate of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts, she was a mechanical artist at Viking Press in the days when Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was the star editor. There she collaborated with Onassis on In the Russian Style and worked on books by Irving Penn, Alfred Eisenstaedt and Georgia O’Keeffe.
After Clarkson Potter, Towey spent a year at House & Garden, which gave her a disillusioning view of Condé Nast’s designers, who were walled off from the editorial staff. Then Martha Stewart Living came along. The job Towey was offered there had few precedents: It was a place where art directors, editors, photographers, stylists, chefs and crafters conceived stories together, where content and presentation were fused.
And it lasted for 22 years. Towey’s decision to step away from MSLO in 2012 was spurred by turning 60, she says. She was ready for a next act and has since turned a long-standing interest in narrative into a series of videos about creative people, including the fashion designer Natalie Chanin and artist Maira Kalman.
Of everything in her career, she says, the storytelling part has been most fulfilling: “I don’t think there’s a very big difference between telling a story with photography and text and video.” She added, “but video is the new way.”
Gael Towey will be presented with the AIGA Medal at The AIGA Centennial Gala on April 25, 2014, in New York City.