Ethel Reed, Mee Sung Park

Folly or Saintliness, Ethel Reed, 1895

Ethel Reed was born in 1874 in Newburyport Massachusetts. She moved to Boston in the 1890s where she achieved international recognition for her posters. Just within two years, she produced book illustrations, cover designs, and more than 25 posters (Wright 2015) While she was in Newburyport, she was influenced by Laura Coombs Hills, a local artist. Later, in Boston, she also studied at the cowls Art School. Her artworks noticed immediately that there was some resemblance to Aubrey Beardsley’s work during the Art Nouveau (Pedersen 2013). Most of her posters contain a solitary female figure often reading a book, with a billowing gown. The figures seem to be in a meditative mood, but at the same time they are subtly erotic figures (Pedersen 2013). One of her most iconic posters is the Folly or Saintliness in 1895. It features a strong contrast of black and orange with a bold serif title.

Posters have been the fundamental field of graphic design in the past and present world. The textbook starts with Art Nouveau and poster designs. There are many designers and artworks that are mentioned in the book. However, most of them, in fact almost everyone featured in the book is males. It would be nice to mix up the ratio and add variety to the content by introducing more female artists and designers of the past. Although Ethel Reed had a very short career in the field, I think she would be one of many ideal female figures to add to the book. Reed had very little influence, instead, she has boldly invented a method of her own purpose toward poster design. She was raised in a poor family and practically self-taught all techniques and was able to produce such charming posters and gain recognition at such a young age of twenty-one.

Works Cited
Pedersen, Nate. “The Beautiful Poster Lady: An Interview with William S         Peterson about Ethel Reed.” Fine Books & Collections, 2 July 2013,
Wright, Helena E. “Ethel Reed and the Poster Craze.” National Museum of American History, 22 May 2015,


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