Shelter Signalling

I love twentieth-century magazine art, especially early twentieth-century cover illustrations, for various reasons: the accessible aesthetics, the creativity and artistry, the cultural representation. Then as now, magazine publishers and editors wanted to represent their time and place with their covers, and also send messages, or signals, to their readership as well as the people who might glance at them as they walked by a street (or airport) stand. The difference between then and now, though, is that more artists were called upon to create these covers in the first half of the twentieth century than photographers. So we have have less realism and more ambiance, color, symbols and impressions. I was looking at a succession of covers of one of my favorite shelter magazines (which had several reincarnations and which I wish would be reincarnated yet again), House and Garden, and it was obvious that its editors deliberately veered away from the realistic renderings featured on covers in the first decade of the twentieth century towards more artistic and impressionistic images in the second and third. Here’s a succession of October covers with the messages that I am receiving, all from the Condé Nast Library, which I’m fortunate to be able to access via Artstor: the alternative themes of “fall planting” and “furnishing for the fall bride” predominate for these “numbers”, but I think there are other messages too.

The Aughts:  we are so Sturdy! (and such good builders, 1908-11).

October aughts collage

The Teens:  we’re so Whimsical! (1916-1920).

October HG 1916

October Teens HG Collage

The Twenties: we are so industrious (and America is truly the land of plenty; 1921-29).

October 1920s Collage

The Thirties: we’re so confused! We are so very 1) Sleek (1936); 2) Acquisitive (1937-38: House & Garden certainly seems a bit out of touch with the DEPRESSION; 3) Rococo (1938-41).

October HG 36

October 1930s collage

Late 30s

1949: We’re Going Places (and we can have it all).

October HG 49

7 responses to “Shelter Signalling

  • Matt

    My first thought was that the use of artists was a natural result of the WPA’s Federal Project Number One, which sought to stimulate the gainful employment of artists. But that effort wasn’t until the 1930s. That said, I agree with sentiment on 20th century magazine art. Art produced in the U.S. at that time was, at least to me, so uniquely “American.” It’s place and time seems so immediately apparent, and I never tire of seeing it.

    • daseger

      Me too, obviously—the “golden age” of illustration definitely predates the Depression and is also a consequence of so many serials out there, but there must also be cultural and artistic factors behind it—it’s interesting to me that photography just takes over in the later 20th century.

  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    What a charming display of House & Garden covers for autumnal musings. My favorite is the one of older man against a November sky, still with his watering can, tending his garden as winter nears…

  • Nancy

    Love them all, but my favorite is the old gardener, staking his twig of a tree, while the wind blusters and the leaves blow all about him. Being a gardener, he knows it’s all a part of the beauty, regardless the season. He seems to have a knowing smile…

  • Lisa

    Having planted some of my first bulbs this season my favorite is the older gentleman staking his tree. Hope.

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