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Paint it black

The palette of a woman artist, the day after the 2016 election.

People tend to see me as relentlessly cheerful, and my work as vibrant and colorful. Today I have the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” stuck in my head. Today I feel hurt, betrayed, shocked, fearful, bitter and white-hot with fury. Today I will quarantine myself from other humans to avoid lashing out and saying awful things. Today I will clean my messy studio and catch up on mindless tasks. Today I’m putting my proverbial house in order, because tomorrow I need to be ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work. We all do. #imstillwithher

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Leading the way

Hand-lettered illustration from the book "Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

When we were coming up with the action-word titles for each chapter in our book, some words came to mind easily, while others were a challenge. Since we had to include three different feminists under each umbrella term, we had to think outside the box of each word’s literal meaning. “Lead,” though, was a no-brainer, and one of the first words that sprung to mind.

Dead Feminists broadsides by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

The women we featured in that chapter were all natural leaders, both literally and figuratively. Harriet Tubman, of course, literally led people to freedom in the North. The four members of the Washington suffrage movement led the way to gaining women in their state the vote. And Shirley Chisholm was elected to lead her constituents in the U.S. House of Representatives—then led the way as the first woman candidate on a major-party Presidential ticket.

Women's suffrage picket line, c. 1912

So since today is Election Day in the U.S., Jessica and I have our minds occupied with the women who came before us, who forged the path that led us to where we are today. And we’ll be focusing on this topic in our talk today at the University of Puget Sound:

Pressing Matters: Election Day
Artist talk, book signing and pop-up shop
Today, November 8, at 4 pm, in room 020
Collins Memorial Library
University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA

1913 women's suffrage campaign program cover

First came the seemingly endless fight to win women the vote—

Women's suffrage illustration in 1909 Seattle Times newspaper

—not just nationally but also within their individual states. The amount of campaigning, organizing, writing, publishing, and picketing done by Emma Smith DeVoe and her colleagues was staggering, but their cumulative efforts built momentum that turned the campaign into an unstoppable train of force.

Historic political cartoon about western states leading the way for women's suffrage

Since women in Washington gained the vote in 1910, a full decade before women could vote in national elections, the suffrage movement saw our region as progressive leaders, trailblazing the path to political equality.

Shirley Chisholm election ephemera

More than sixty years later, Shirley Chisholm took the lead by running for President, which made her, in her own words, “literally and figuratively the dark horse.” Though she lost the 1972 Democratic primaries in the end, she fought hard to make the path a little easier for any women who came after her.

Women's suffrage campaigner in 1920

Today we stand on another historic threshold, where at long last, American women have the chance to vote for the first woman President—not just in the primaries, but in the main event. When we cast our ballots today, we’ll feel the presence of all the women who led the way.

Vintage women's suffrage and voting campaign buttons

A century’s worth of campaign buttons has got it right: your vote counts, especially if you are a woman. Please get out and vote today, and help us make history, not just write about it.

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A toast

Election 2012 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, abled, disabled, gay or straight. You can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”

— President Obama, 6 November 2012

There’s a lot of work ahead, and not every step we took today was in the right direction. But I want to thank everyone who voted for women’s rights, for marriage equality, for four more years. Tonight I’m raising my glass to everyone who voted to move us Forward.

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Keep the Change

"Keep the Change" letterpress broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

If you have any sort of link to the outside world (television, radio, internet access, newspaper, mailbox), chances are you’ve been unable to escape this year’s deluge of advertising, chatter and glossy-printed recycling fodder—all centered around this coming Tuesday. It’s enough to have even four-year-olds throwing up their hands in frustration. Jessica and I, however, have spent many hours sifting through election material—1972 election material, I mean. To remind us of what’s really important this year (and every year), we turned to the woman who help paved the way for our current President.

The one thing you’ve got going: your one vote.  —Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm was one of fifteen Presidential candidates in 1972. It was a volatile time: the Vietnam War was the center of public discord; movements for civil rights and gender equality were major issues around the western world; and the race came on the heels of the 1968 race—one of the bloodiest election years in American history.

Shirley knew she was a long shot; she even referred to herself as “literally and figuratively the dark horse.” Yet she also knew that to run for President, all that was required was to be a natural-born U.S. citizen of at least 35 years of age. There was nothing in there about being male or Caucasian—and as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, she was at least as qualified as her fellow candidates. So she ran, because it was her right, and because she knew that if she played it smart and started winning delegates, she’d have some power to leverage.

Shirley sought to create a truly representative government. Rather than a cookie-cutter set of interchangeable politicians running the country, she envisioned an America where each region, economic sector and ethnic group elected one of its own to office. She wanted to see a woman heading the Department of Education & Welfare; a Native American in charge of the Department of the Interior. And as a freshman Congresswoman she was assigned to the House Forestry Committee but refused to serve—how would forest stewardship or agricultural bills represent New York’s inner-city 12th Congressional District?

Shirley Chisholm campaign materials

She also saw her office as an opportunity to encourage women—especially women of color—to get involved in politics. Every member of her staff was a woman, half of them African-American. To say the least, her very presence made her fellow legislators nervous—and on top of everything else, she was probably the only woman of color in the whole country who made the exact same salary as her white male colleagues. (Heck, for people like Yvette Clarke or Barbara Lee, that’s probably still true for the most part. How depressing is that?)

On the national political stage, however, her race and gender were two strikes against her. She gathered support from the National Organization for Women, but when the time came for NOW to officially endorse a candidate, their squeamishness over the possibility of a black nominee overcame their lip service. And the Black Congressional Caucus, of which Shirley was a founding member, threw her under a bus because they couldn’t bring themselves to support a female candidate. To me, that’s the most interesting thing—Shirley Chisholm always said she faced far more discrimination over her gender than the color of her skin.

Still, though she had to battle opposition and prejudice from all sides, she worked to bring people of all stripes together. When her opponent George Wallace (yes, that George Wallace—Mr. “Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever”) was wounded in an assassination attempt, Shirley visited him in the hospital. They were the ultimate Odd Couple: years later Wallace used his clout among Southern congressmen to help Shirley pass a bill giving domestic workers the right to a minimum wage.

In the end, though she gathered 152 delegates, she knew she’d never snag the Democratic nomination. So she conceded to George McGovern—who went on to win just one state (Massachusetts) in the 1972 Presidential election. Take a look at the electoral college map for that year:

1972 electoral map

That’s a whole lotta red.

Detail of "Keep the Change" letterpress broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

And since this election season marks the fourth anniversary of our series, that map was the starting point for Keep the Change, our new Dead Feminist broadside. I redrew the map in blue, and from there we crafted a period homage to Shirley’s impeccable style and substance.

Detail of "Keep the Change" letterpress broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

The 12th Congressional District was one of the areas hardest hit last week by Hurricane Sandy. While the immediate recovery efforts in the city are crucial, we also recognize the importance of serving a community long after the disaster relief efforts have ended. So to help continue Shirley’s long-term service to her home city, we’ll be donating a portion of our proceeds  to Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration, the nation’s first non-profit community development corporation. Restoration partners with residents and businesses to improve the quality of life of Central Brooklyn by fostering economic self sufficiency, enhancing family stability, promoting the arts and culture and transforming the neighborhood into a safe, vibrant place to live and work.

In the meantime, let’s do what Shirley did best—cast our vote, and keep fighting the good fight.

Detail of "Keep the Change" letterpress broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

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Keep the Change: No. 16 in the Dead Feminists series
Edition size: 152
Poster size: 10 x 18 inches

Printed on an antique Vandercook Universal One press, on archival, 100% rag (cotton) paper. Each piece is numbered and signed by both artists.

Colophon reads:
Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm (1924–2005) was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York — though she spent her early years growing up in Barbados with her grandmother and younger sisters. She earned a master’s degree from Columbia University and moved on to teach, becoming an authority on early education. After working as a consultant to the Bureau of Child Welfare, Chisholm won a seat in the New York State Assembly in 1964. She ran for the House of Representatives in 1968 under the slogan “Unbought and Unbossed,” and was the first African-American woman elected to Congress. As a junior member, she was assigned to the House Forestry Committee but demanded reassignment on the grounds that she couldn’t effectively represent her inner-city constituency. A founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, she served seven terms in Congress.

In 1972 Chisholm ran for U.S. President, the first woman and African American on a major party ticket. She fiercely supported the rights of women and people of color, and opposed the Vietnam War. She was “literally and figuratively the dark horse”— women voters limited their support based on race, and the Congressional Black Caucus backed off because of her gender. Though she didn’t win a single primary, she proved “a catalyst for change,” gathering 152 delegates and demonstrating that women could compete nationally. Chisholm ended her campaign at the Convention, releasing her delegates to George McGovern — who lost in a landslide to Richard Nixon.

Illustrated by Chandler O’Leary and printed by Jessica Spring. Please vote to keep women moving forward.

Available now in the Dead Feminists shop!

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Suffragist City

Washington state capitol photo by Chandler O'Leary

I woke up this morning after the first full night’s sleep in over a month, and celebrated by breaking the recent routine of studio-studio-studio entirely. I ignored the computer, bundled up, and headed down to the state capitol in Oly for a once-in-a-century party.

Washington state capitol photo by Chandler O'Leary

One hundred years ago today, the state of Washington approved an amendment to the state constitution granting women the right to vote.

Washington state capitol photo by Chandler O'Leary

To celebrate the occasion, the capitol rotunda played host to the Centennial Day of Jubilation. Forget collaborating on Jell-o recipes; I think even May and Emma would have agreed on how cool an idea this was.

Washington state women's suffrage centennial photo by Chandler O'Leary

Everyone in the Rotunda got in on the action. The Lieutenant Governor’s office, here, was transformed into a picket line,

Washington state women's suffrage centennial photo by Chandler O'Leary

while reenactors turned the foyer into a debate chamber.

Washington state women's suffrage centennial photo by Chandler O'Leary

And upstairs, in the Reception Room, a feisty demonstrator channeled the spirit of the suffragists—

Washington state women's suffrage centennial photo by Chandler O'Leary

and did her best to drag the audience into the past with her.

Washington state women's suffrage centennial photo by Chandler O'Leary

It’s too bad I don’t own any Edwardian clothing—I felt a bit underdressed for the occasion.

Centennial of Women's Suffrage, Washington state capitol

Still, I managed to channel my inner suffragist, even without the corset and bustle.

Button photo by Chandler O'Leary

And on my twenty-first century overcoat, I found a way to wear a little pride. In my head I did a little thank-you salute to all the Washington suffragists of old. Ladies, we couldn’t celebrate without you.

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Come, Come

"Come, Come," letterpress broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

This blog might be brand new, but I should probably bring you up to speed on a project that isn’t. Starting last fall, right before the 2008 Presidential Election, my friend and fellow letterpress printer Jessica Spring asked me if I wanted to collaborate on a political broadside (basically, a letterpress version of a poster) together. We both felt like this was an important event, and a moment in history, and we wanted to make some sort of contribution to the artistic record. Jessica said she had a historical quote that would be fun to typeset, and asked if I could do a quick illustration of a pair of spectacles to go with it. She thought it’d be fun to make the glasses look like the famous eyewear of a certain Alaskan VP candidate (who can see Russia from her house!)—her plan was to use her impressive collection of wood and metal type to hand-set the quote into the design.

Well, she probably shouldn’t have left me alone with my pencils, because I got a little carried away, and drew not just the glasses, but the whole quote around them, too:

Come, come my conservative friend, wipe the dew off your spectacles and see the world is moving.  — Elizabeth Cady Stanton

I did this because I wanted the piece to be something more than simply a jab at a political personality. I wanted it to be beautiful in its own right, something that might do justice to Stanton’s words, and that would be longer-lasting than a momentary visual pun. Besides, Stanton put up one of the most important fights in American history: women’s suffrage. In this country with with a voter turnout rate of less than two-thirds, I wanted to do my small part to get women everywhere, regardless of political stripe, to the polls. And then, as it always does, my fingers started itching to draw my own letterforms. After all, for as much as I love hand-setting type, one of the reasons I’m a letterer is because I’m continually frustrated by the finite number of typefaces available in wood and metal. Not that I’m happy with choosing among the thousands and thousands of digital font families out there, either. Let’s just say I’m picky. So I made up my mind to letter the whole thing by hand, and not to tell Jessica until the sketch was done.

"Come, Come," hand-lettered process drawing by Chandler O'Leary

Bless her heart, she went along with the idea. We scrapped the idea of setting vintage type and printed the image using a modern material called photopolymer plates (more on that another day). And then we put the broadside into our online shop, and sent out an email to our little mailing list to let them know we’d made something new.

Three days later, the entire edition of prints was sold out. We were floored! Neither of us had ever experienced this kind of clamoring for our work before—we’d both sold out editions before, but not this quickly. People started emailing us and asking if we were going to do more posters. After reading that, we kind of looked at each other and said, “Why not?”

And the Dead Feminists series was born.

(More on the series another day: first, let’s get to the details about the broadside itself:)

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Come, Come: No. 1 in the Dead Feminists series
Edition size: 44 prints
Poster size: 10 x 18 inches

Printed on an antique Vandercook Universal One press, on archival, 100% rag (cotton) paper. Each piece is numbered and signed by both artists.

Colophon reads:
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815 – 1902) spent her life in pursuit of women’s rights. She wrote many speeches delivered by Susan B. Anthony, who said Stanton “forged the thunderbolts” that she delivered as they worked together for women’s suffrage. Stanton raised seven children and organized the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848 but died without ever casting her vote before the 19th Amendment passed in 1920.

Poster is sold out. Reproduction postcards available in the Dead Feminists shop!

NOTE: the shop is currently closed; I am taking a break to do some traveling, prepare for some events and reorganize my inventory. All orders placed between now and May 20 will ship on Tuesday, May 23, 2017. I apologize for the inconvenience!