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Edward Penfield (1866–1925)
Y.W.C.A.
The Girl on the Land Serves the Nation's Need, 1917–18
color lithograph
63.5 x 76.2 cm (25 x 30 in.)
Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University

The dramatic image Penfield made for the Young Women's Christian Association late in his career exemplifies his use of flattened shapes and bold composition. In contrast with his early work, here he reduces the decorative elements and focuses on the broad planes of color to make silhouettes of the figures carrying a hoe, a rake, and harvested vegetables. Despite their competence with tools and farm animals and their khaki-colored uniforms that evoke thoughts of the boys gone off to war, these "girls" remain feminine in face and manner.

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Biography of Edward Penfield

Edward Penfield received his training at the Art Students League in New York City. He went on to become the art director at Harper's magazine and also designed a series of monthly posters for Harper's that won enormous critical acclaim. By the turn of the century, Penfield's reputation as an important graphic designer was assured.

The Harper's posters have been characterized as the definitive graphic works of the 1890s. Penfield took full advantage of recent improvements in color printing to create works that were effective vehicles of communication and also aesthetically engaging. Less concerned with the dramatic curving lines of Art Nouveau than his contemporary Will Bradley, Penfield synthesized a number of stylistic sources in his work, including Japanese prints and those of French artists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Jules Chéret.

After leaving Harper's in 1901, Penfield continued to be extremely active in both design and illustration. In addition to posters for other magazines including Scribner's and Collier's, he executed illustrations and covers for many books and generated designs for numerous commercial concerns. TogPenfield was instrumental in creating the rich fabric of American graphic design work in the 1890s.

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