In the last decade of the nineteenth century, Ethel Reed emerged as one of Boston’s preeminent poster designers. Born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, she studied drawing and was briefly apprenticed to a painter of miniatures, but for the most part was self-taught. She spent most of her career in Boston, and also did some work in London.
Reed was extraordinarily prolific while in Boston. From 1895 to 1897 she designed a large number of important book posters, in addition to producing illustrations, covers, and endpapers. Her style was distinctive, albeit rooted in the whiplash-curve sensibility of art nouveau. Many of Reed’s illustrations feature female figures, frequently surrounded by objects and tangled forms that seem full of secret and illicit meanings.
Reed’s departure from the spotlight was even more sudden than her arrival. Engaged to the Boston artist Philip Hale in 1897, she traveled to England later that year to work on a book poster for the novelist Richard Le Gallienne. She then traveled to Ireland, apparently for a vacation. At this point she disappeared, and nothing more is known of her activities or whereabouts.
Therese Thau Heyman Posters American Style (New York and Washington, D.C.: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., in association with the National Museum of American Art, 1998)