AMERICAN WOMEN'S HISTORY INITIATIVE

Gail Anderson: A Lifetime in Design


Gail Anderson
Gail Anderson

In October 2018, New York-based designer, writer and educator Gail Anderson received the Lifetime Achievement National Design Award, bestowed by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. The award recognizes Anderson’s innovative body of work and longtime leadership in the design field; her 30-plus-year career has spanned magazine covers to theatre posters and postage stamps.

Anderson is currently the creative director at Visual Arts Press, the in-house design studio for the School of Visual Arts, where she has taught design for more than 25 years. She is also a partner at Anderson Newton Design. Previously, she served as creative director of design at SpotCo, an advertising agency that creates artwork for theater, and as a designer and senior art director of Rolling Stone.

We recently asked the designer to reflect on her career.

Q: You started out as a designer at Vintage Books in the 1980s. In that era, was the design field open and welcoming to young women?

My design heroes were all women—Paula Scher, Carin Goldberg, Louise Fili, Henrietta Condak and all of the other fabulous women doing book jackets, magazines and album covers. At the School of Visual Arts, my classmates and I were fortunate to come of age in an era where we had strong female role models who were doing amazing work.

Q: Looking over your body of work, is there one design project that held personal significance for you?

I am still flabbergasted by the opportunity I was given by Antonio Alcalá and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). I got to design the 150th anniversary Emancipation Proclamation stamp—it doesn’t get better than that! I am so proud of that project, and to then get to serve on the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee for the USPS. I have been very lucky.

Q: Do you think women bring a unique sensibility or perspective to the field of design?

I’m not sure if we bring something special—that’s a tough one. But I do know that the women I’ve worked with over the years have crushed it. They’ve gone to great pains not to ask to be treated differently through pregnancies, child care issues, and all kinds of crises. I want to say we bring a certain sensitivity to the work, but in the end, I think we bring that sensitivity to everything—in a good way!

Q: Can you talk about the importance of women mentoring women in your field?

I’ve made it a point to mentor women as I was mentored by Lynn Staley at the Boston Globe in my early adulthood. Paula Scher and Louise Fili's guidance has been instrumental throughout my entire career, from my School of Visual Arts years to this very day. It’s important for me to pay it forward, and I’ve made it a point to keep an eye on my female students of color, in particular (though not exclusively, of course). It feels so good to watch students blossom, and to watch their confidence grow.

Here, a few samples from Anderson’s portfolio:

Emancipation Proclamation stamp

Emancipation Proclamation stamp
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In the Heights poster

In the Heights poster
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Harvest book cover

Harvest book cover
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