“Sisterhood is Blooming” poster
An icon of 1970s feminism from a collective of DIY graphic artists proves you don’t need impeccable letterforms for effective poster design.
The “Sisterhood is Blooming / Springtime Will Never Be the Same” poster was originally produced in the early 1970s by the Chicago Women’s Graphics Collective, an organization founded 50 years ago this year to provide feminist posters in support of the women’s liberation movement.
The Graphics Collective, which operated as a workgroup of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, wanted their work to be a collective process – unlike most work from the individualist western art culture that has historically been dominated by men. Each of their posters was created by a committee of 2 to 4 women, recruited and led by an artist-designer from the group. Most of their early prints, including “Sisterhood is Blooming”, were produced with inexpensive but effective silkscreen techniques that could be carried out in members’ apartments without much specialized equipment. As the Collective’s output grew they moved to a series of studio spaces around Chicago and adopted other production methods like offset printing. The group distributed thousands of posters around the world before closing their doors in 1983.
The simple wording and stylization of the “Sisterhood is Blooming” poster, printed with orange and purple ink on black paper, is one of the Collective’s most popular designs. Its roughly-rendered lettering is derived from the Davida typeface, and accompanies an abstract illustration of a circular flower.
In an interview conducted by Rebecca Zorach, CWGC co-founder Estelle Carol explained the genesis of the design and some of the production techniques involved, including the use of dry transfer lettering for the text:
RZ: And how did [the Sisterhood is Blooming poster] come about?
EC: This one was a vision that I had, and I kind of just saw this in my head.
RZ: The whole thing, or did it get tweaked?
EC: Parts of it, and then the group did a poster think and we all kind of helped work it along. It was in the 1970s, it was one of the first posters we ever did. So it was a long, long time ago. But I was the leader of the team, though, that I remember.
RZ: How did you do the text on that? Was that just like freehand design?
EC: Remember, there was that stuff called PressType?
EC: Sheets of letters and you rub them down? That’s how I did it.
RZ: Is that just different sizes of that?
EC: Yeah, it’s just different sizes of PressType.
RZ: I’m trying to understand the technique with the screen: the PressType would create the design…
EC: You would create the design on paper, and then you would shoot a film, and you’d enlarge it. Or you could draw on clear acetate, and you could make a film manually. Usually what I’d [do], if we needed a giant film, I would take the image to get it shot on this humongous, 30, 40 foot flatbed camera or a service or something that would do it for you, make a film.
The full interview is worth reading if you’re interested in the intersection of 20th-century social movements and DIY graphic arts.
The letters on the poster are fairly rough compared to typical incarnations of Davida, appearing as if they’ve been hand-cut from paper, with many glyphs differing significantly from the original typeface. Presumably some letters that were missing from a dry transfer sheet were improvised or reconstructed using pieces of other letters. The lettering may have also gone through a manual reproduction process while preparing the artwork for reproduction, as mentioned in the quote above. In any case, the bumpy contours of the letters echo the woodcut style of the illustration, further emphasizing the DIY/handmade feeling of the poster.
Since its debut, the design has spawned a variety of reinterpretations in the form of alternate posters, multiple t-shirts, illustrations, window art, and more. After nearly half a century of visibility and appreciation, the poster – like many other DIY designs of the time – stands as evidence that it’s possible for rough graphics to be just as effective, if not more so, as highly polished productions.
A limited number of original silkscreen prints of the poster, as well as reprints in different sizes, are available for sale from the Chicago Womens Liberation Union Herstory Project. Support the cause!