A Freeport artist who is trying to build her portfolio and credentials just landed a coup: the cover of The New Yorker magazine.
Abigail Gray Swartz’s painting of Rosie the Riveter wearing a pink pussyhat will grace the coveted spot when the Feb. 6 issue begins circulating Tuesday.
Swartz, 36, made the painting after attending the Women’s March in Augusta on Jan. 21 in solidarity with people who have adopted the pink hat with cat ears as a symbol of resistance to President Trump.
“To see all those pink hats was really striking,” said Swartz, a freelance illustrator and mother of two. “I knew it would be an iconic visual image.”
The cover of The New Yorker is any artist’s dream, and especially one trying to balance a career with raising a family. “It’s been a longtime dream to work for them, so I am pinching myself now that it has happened,” she said.
Swartz met a pair of illustrators who work for The New Yorker when they conducted a workshop at Maine College of Art last summer arranged by the Illustration Institute, a new Portland arts group. Through those contacts, she began corresponding with Francoise Mouly, the arts editor of The New Yorker. Mouly also edits Resist!, a new tabloid of political comics and graphics by mostly female artists. Mouly accepted a graphic that Swartz created for the issue of Resist! that circulated at the Women’s March on Washington, also on Jan. 21.
Swartz came home from the march in Augusta fired up and inspired to paint.
“Art and artists are very necessary, especially during times of turmoil,” she said. “I want to do good with my art, be it to inspire people or lift them up.”
For The New Yorker, Swartz turned Rosie the Riveter into a black woman wearing a pink hat. The original Rosie is a cultural icon from World War II, when women took jobs in factories making arms and armaments while men went off to fight.
The original portrait of a factory-working woman wearing a bandanna and flexing her biceps was a symbol of feminism and economic strength. Widely reproduced, the original image was created by Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller as a commission to recruit women for munitions jobs, and it included the words “We Can Do It!”
The updated image matches the turbulent mood of America, Swartz said. The pussyhat has became a unifying symbol among women – and men – offended by Trump’s derogatory language toward women. The Pussyhat Project organized legions of people to make the hats, which were inspired by a reference to videotaped remarks Trump made in 2005 about grabbing women without their consent.
“Here are women, in a different domestic way, making something but making it for themselves, not making it for the men,” she said. “They are reclaiming a word that was so indescribably offensive, and reclaiming it for themselves.”
At the rally in Augusta, Swartz wore a hand-painted cape with the words “Equality for Womankind” and carried a sign that read “Don’t Tread on Me” with an illustration of a uterus. She and her husband keep their signs by the back door, so they can grab them before heading out to the next protest. Her work feels urgent, with successive protests happening across Maine on a variety of issues.
Scott Nash, executive director of the Illustration Institute, said colorful and well-designed signs are playing a larger role in protests today than during other times. He noticed it at the Women’s March in Portland when a well-rendered and thoughtfully conceived image of Trump struck him for its artistic merit as much as its message.
“I think what is exciting about the times is they are becoming increasingly conceptual and visual. I have seen a lot of graphics employed that are exceedingly potent,” he said. “Along with the traditional messages scrawled on boards, we’re seeing some really strong graphics.”
Maine artists have a history of mixing activism with art. The Artists Rapid Response Team, a project of the Union of Maine Visual Artists, meets monthly in Brunswick to make banners and posters for protests.
The pink hat is a particularly effective visual image, Nash said. “That concept is amazingly iconic,” he said. “The color is so strong, but it’s also the fact that it reflects cat ears so well. I think it’s brilliant, and I think it’s great to see it popping up all over the place.”
Beginning Tuesday, it will be on the cover of The New Yorker.
Swartz began sketching Rosie on the Monday after the march. Her original painting placed a pink-hatted Rosie in front of an American flag with knitting needles in her hand and a ball of yarn. She sent that off to The New Yorker, not expecting to hear back. But Mouly did write back, saying she liked it and asking Swartz for revisions. The next 72 hours were “like a runaway freight train” with sketches and mock-ups going back and forth until finally Swartz got the word Thursday night that her watercolor had been approved for the cover.
Her friends threw her a party on Friday.
“I was just blown away and really happy,” said Swartz, who declined to say how much she was paid for the gig.
Mouly said Swartz’s art stood out among the many images she received about the women’s march because of her transformation of Rosie from a white woman to a black woman. Many artists drew Rosie with a pink hat, Mouly said, but Swartz was the only one who submitted an image with Rosie as a woman of color. “She shaped it in a way that took it one step further than the others,” Mouly said.
With her art, Swartz is now connected to something bigger than she ever imagined.
“The women’s marches all over the world felt really powerful,” she said. “All these women have our backs and they, too, are fighting their own fight for equality. It’s pretty incredible.”
Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: