Investigator of social issues through public art, graphic design
and design education.
Sheila Levrant de Bretteville is a graphic designer, artist and
educator whose work reflects her belief in the importance of
feminist principles, user participation in graphic design, and
diverse local community issues. Since 1990 she has been the
director of the Yale University Graduate Program in Graphic Design,
one of the oldest and most important design programs in the
De Bretteville attended Abraham Lincoln High School on Ocean
Parkway, Brooklyn. She was director of the “Art Squad,” a group of
students assembled for their talent in art by visual arts teacher
Leon Friend. Friend submitted much of the students work to
competitions and during this period de Bretteville, won the Alex
Steinweiss prize among many others.
De Bretteville studied art history at Barnard College, and chose
graphic design at Yale University School of Art, thinking that it
would satisfy her thirst to connect with people in regular
situations, and her love of what is thoughtfully made.
In 1971 she founded the first design program for women at the
California Institute of the Arts, and two years later co-founded
both “The Woman's Building,” a public center for female culture,
and its Women's Graphic Center in Los Angeles. In 1981 she
initiated the communication design program at the Otis Art
Institute of the Parsons School of Design.
De Bretteville's beliefs about community have crystallized in
the creation of public art works embedded within city neighborhoods
on both coasts. Through her deep research into the neighborhoods
where her works are sited, her recording of residents' voices, and
her respect for the everyday life and memories of a community, de
Bretteville is able to produce projects that are significant to all
of their local populations.
One of her best-known pieces of public art is “Biddy Mason: Time
& Place,” an 82-foot long mural on the wall of an interior
street in downtown Los Angeles that tells the story of an
African-American midwife who lived at the site. To create the
images and text of the narrative for this piece, completed in 1990,
de Bretteville used concrete, limestone, etched granite and slate
inserts and painted steel letters.
In “Path of Stars,” completed in 1994 in a New Haven
neighborhood, de Bretteville documented the lives of local
citizens—past and present—with 21 granite stars set in the
“On both coasts of the United States, de Bretteville has used
typography and environmental design to enhance communities. Her
aesthetically rich, metaphoric projects are meaningful to a diverse
range of local populations.”
—Ellen Lupton, National Design Triennial catalogue
The distinguished AIGA Medal is awarded to individuals in recognition of their exceptional achievements in the field of design.
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