Cipe Pineles

1908, Austria


In the days when American graphic design seemed the province of European immigrants, the men were joined by a young woman born in Austria. The graphic design career of Cipe Pineles (pronounced SEE-pee pi-NELL-iss) began when she was installed by Condé Nast himself in the office of M.F. Agha, art director for Condé Nast publications Vogue, Vanity Fair, and House and Garden. Through the 1930s and early 1940s, Pineles learned editorial art direction from one of the masters of the era, and became (at Glamour) the first autonomous woman art director of a mass-market American publication. She is credited with other “firsts” as well: being the first art director to hire fine artists to illustrate mass-market publications; the first woman to be asked to join the all-male New York Art Directors Club and later their Hall of Fame. After experimenting on Glamour, she later art directed and put her distinctive mark on Seventeen and Charm magazines as well. Until her death in 1991, Cipe Pineles continued a design career of almost sixty years through work for Lincoln Center and others, and teaching at the Parsons School of Art and Design.

Pineles had piqued Nast's interest with some shoebox-sized models for store window fabric displays she had developed for Contempora, a design collaborative willing to tackle projects ranging in scale from a coffeepot to a World's Fair. The Contempora job was Pineles's first since graduating from Pratt Institute in 1929. It had taken her a year of portfolio reviews to land the position: the too-frequent pattern had been a positive reaction to the work followed by dismay when a woman showed up for the interview.

Working with Agha on the design of Vogue and Vanity Fair, she learned how to be an editorial designer. “Agha was the most fabulous boss to work for,” Pineles reported later. “Nothing you did satisfied him. He was always sending you back to outdo yourself, to go deeper into the subject.” He told his staff to visit galleries and museums and bring back new ideas. During the early 1930s, Condé Nast publications were innovative in their use of European Modernism in magazine design. Typography was simplified and typefaces such as Futura became common. Headlines and text could be anywhere on the page. Photography took precedence over fashion illustration and was reproduced large on the page, bleeding off to create “landscapes” or transgressing across the gutter. Space expanded as purely decorative elements disappeared and margins were opened.

Watching and listening to Agha, Pineles also learned how to be an art director: “He spent a lot of time talking with his creative people?about problems related to type. Pictures and the selection of pictures as satisfying an editorial concept or not.” Creative people doing one thing were urged to take on another medium to gain new perspective. Pineles, in addition to handling design and spot illustration, was one of his talent scouts for new illustrators and photographers.

Rising to the position Agha had been preparing her for, Pineles was named art director of Glamour in 1942. Ignoring her publisher, who turned out to have little respect for this middle-market fashion audience, Pineles used the best talent of the day, among them photographers Andre Kertesz, Herbert Matter, Cornell Capa, Toni Frissell, and Trude Fleischmann; designer Ladislav Sutnar; and artists S.E. and Richard Lindner and Lucille Corcos.

After a short hiatus during World War II when she worked in Paris on a magazine for servicewomen, Pineles became the art director of the three-year-old Seventeen magazine, a radical invention directed toward a hitherto undefined audience: teenage girls. The founder and editor, Helen Valentine, addressed her readers as serious and intelligent young adults, rather than as the silly, only-marriage-minded girls other publishers saw. In support of Valentine's mission to educated teenage girls, Pineles moved Seventeen out of the common idealized and sentimental school of illustration to use the best contemporary artists working in America. The reader's visual education would begin with the best artists' work.

Pineles is credited with the innovation of using fine artists to illustrate mass-market publications. Important because it brought fine art and modern art to the attention of the young mainstream public, it also allowed fine artists access to the commercial world. Pineles commissioned such artists as Ben Shahn and his wife, Berarda Bryson, Richard Lindner, Jacob Lawrence, Reginald Marsh, John Sloan, and Dong Kingman. Some young artists “discovered” by the magazine became well known: Richard Anuskiewicz and Seymour Chwast. An artist and illustrator herself, Pineles was the perfect art director: she left the artists alone. She asked them to read the whole story and choose what they wanted to illustrate. Her only direction was that the commissioned work be good enough to hang with their other work in a gallery.

Neither was Pineles averse to using her own talents. She had an affinity for food painting and used objects, furniture, and even her own large-scale country house as props and locations for many photographs in the magazine. In one instance, finding potatoes too ugly for photos to go with her story, the food editor turned to Pineles, who recalled: “I thought they were pretty, so I dug out my kitchen tools, bought ten cents' worth of potatoes, painted them on a double-page size sheet of paper, indicated the type layout and left town. Total time, an hour and a half. Two weeks later, when finished art was needed, I went about the job more seriously. I nursed the potatoes, considered the type more carefully, and then tore the whole thing up. The rough was more fun. Total time, eighteen hours.” The potatoes won her an Art Directors Club gold medal.

In Pineles's hands, the design of Seventeen followed the more classical tradition of magazine and typographic design. For the fiction, the quiet and bookish typography supported the primacy of the artwork. For editorial and fashion pages, the type was more playful, even showing early tendencies in American figurative typography where objects replace letters as visual puns. Bear in mind, this was during the golden age of magazine design when art directors had thirty pages of uninterrupted editorial well in which to develop their visual ideas in a more cinematically dynamic way than is possible now. Pineles remained at Seventeen for three years, leaving to art direct Charm magazine in 1950.

Twelve years before Ms. and twenty-six years before a magazine called Working Woman, the cover of Charm boldly carried the subtitle: “The magazine for women who work.” The audience needed, but did not yet have, a service and fashion magazine that helped them fit together their two jobs. In Charm (as in Seventeen), surrounded by the advertisements that reflected society's limits on girls and women, the editorial pages showed something different: ways for American females to see themselves involved in the wider world and in possession and control of knowledge, money, and their destinies. Consciously, she turned her professional challenges at Seventeen and Charm into opportunities; less consciously, she turned them into places where, while addressing women's usual beauty and fashion interest, their values and changing roles also might be addressed and supported.

Charm's presentation of fashion revealed its take on its readers. The clothes for working women were shown in use: at the office, commuting, lunch-hour shopping, and as practical answers for quotidian problems. As Pineles put it, “We tried to make the prosaic attractive without using the tired clichés of false glamour. You might say we tried to convey the attractiveness of reality, as opposed to the glitter of a never-never land.” Pineles used modern architecture and modern industrial design as locations and props for the photo shoos. For a repeated series of cover articles called “She Works in [City Name],” Pineles designed entire issues to reflect each city theme. In the Detroit issue, for example, Pineles used the city as a backdrop for the fashion pages, constructing the layouts from photos of building and expressways and in other ways reflecting the city's connection to the automotive industry. An extension of the theme included the vernacular typography of the parking garage.

In 1961, briefly following Bradbury Thompson's long tenure as AD at Mademoiselle, Pineles became an independent consultant designer and a design teacher. During the mid-19602, when the Lincoln Center complex was rising, Pineles took on the difficult task of coordinating much of the educational and promotional material. Working for the corporation that managed the fundraising and public information for an uneasy consortium of arts groups, she established a graphic system for publications, an identifying mark, and attempted to educated management and the arts groups about the value of a unified visual image and organized information distribution. By the late 1960s, Lincoln Center's monetary problems distracted attention.

At the same time, Pineles was discovering the intense pleasures of teaching by offering a course in editorial design at Parsons, a course she taught until the mid-1980s. The course required the student to identify a topic and its audience and develop a magazine for that audience: to design the publication from cover to interior spreads, as well as the marketing materials needed to find the audience. Several current art directors are products of this course; one—Melissa Tardiff, AD of Town and Country in the '80s—described the Pineles approach in this way: “She didn't teach style—she taught content. She taught you to start with the content of the magazine and then work from there, rather than just think about what design was going to look nice on the page.” Pineles later developed a follow-up course in which students developed, designed, and printed a college “yearbook,” first redefining what a yearbook could be. The most famous product of that course, the Parson's Bread Book, went into a trade edition and was named one of the AIGA's Fifty Books of the Year in 1975. Pineles was at Parsons during years of rapid growth when it became part of the New School and expanded to Los Angeles. She became the director of publications for an extensive promotional program. Using students, faculty, and others to supply art and photography, Pineles established a strong, colorful, often amusing and varied visual identity for the school. The conceit of identifying New York and Los Angeles with apples and oranges was probably the most powerful hit on the public's consciousness, though there were many smaller taps. She continued to teach at Parsons into her mid-seventies though she handed off the promotional design program and production duties a few years before retiring.

Until the mid-1950s, when much younger women started making their way into positions of independent responsibility in magazines and graphic design, Cipe Pineles was by herself and a “first” in many respects. She had accumulated innumerable art direction and publication design awards over the years from the Art Directors Club, AIGA, Society of Publication Designers and others. While there were some other women receiving awards, they were always paired with their hovering (male) art director, while Pineles got single credit. Though she paid her professional dues early and often—awards, juries, panels, presentations, lectures, committees, and boards, including AIGA—and though Dr. Agha had been proposing her for ten years, the New York Art Directors Club would not offer her a membership. The club did not budge until faced with this dilemma: it offered membership to William Golden, the energetic design director of CBS, who pointed out that the ADC was hardly a professional club if it had ignored his fully qualified wife (he and Pineles had married in 1942). Both became members in 1948; she was the first woman member. Also in 1948, Pineles and Golden became the first couple to win individual Gold Medal awards in the same year. In 1975, she was the first woman inducted into their Hall of Fame.

As a “first” female allowed on some closely protected male professional turf, Pineles was pleased to be included with all her friends. Although these rewards were late in coming, Pineles was of a generation and demeanor that were gracious and patient. She has remained, unfairly and unfortunately, a footnote to American graphic design history, overshadowed by the attention paid to her two husbands, but this is soon to change.

Cipe Pineles was an established designer at Condé Nast when she met William Golden in the late 1930s and helped him get a job with Agha. Golden went on to direct the corporate identity for CBS and to become a standard bearer for high quality and ethical corporate design. (He was a posthumous AIGA Gold Medalist in 1988.) Golden died at a young age in 1958, leaving Pineles with their young son. Within two years, Pineles married the recently widowed Will Burtin, who with his wife and daughter had been very close friends of the Goldens. Burtin, for his part, was a wartime German immigrant who quickly established himself in New York as an art director, corporate designer, teacher, extraordinary exhibitions designer, and a founding member of the Aspen Institute conferences. He received the AIGA Gold Medal in 1971. With an AIGA Gold Medal going to Pineles, the three will now be the largest “family” of medalists, each medal bestowed for independent achievement.

Talented, assertive, with charm enhanced by her lingering Austrian accent, Cipe Pineles became the first independent woman American graphic designer. As art director of Glamour, Seventeen, Charm, and Mademoiselle for over twenty years, she collaborated with hundreds of artists, illustrators, photographers, and editors. She mentored her assistants and later formally taught a generation of designers at Parsons. As an art director, she provided an encouraging, enthusiastic, and collaborative model: as a professional woman in a predominantly male field, she was a model for the next generation of women in design. A friend and colleague to legions of creative people across the globe, Cipe Pineles was always ready with good food and lively conversation as well as advice, a letter of support, a contact, or a commission.

Copyright 1998 by The American Institute of Graphic Arts.