Growing up in the 1960s, Anne Taintor saw much of the arc of the slow change in women’s roles in American society. In 1960, it was the tail end of the era of the housewife. By decade’s end, it was the beginning of the era of the independent woman.
“I grew up in a very traditional household in Lewiston. My mother was a housewife, and it was obvious she hated it,” said Taintor. “She loved my father and us, of course, but she went to law school, passed the bar, and then she got married and had babies and that part of her life was over. Her resentment was palpable. I definitely picked up on that.”
Taintor used her keen eye for social mores, her artistic skills, her business savvy and her wicked sense of humor to build an instantly recognizable brand. If you’ve been into any small boutique anywhere, you’ve probably seen her stuff gracing cards, coasters, calendars, wallets and much more. The perfectly groomed 1940s or ’50s housewife, swooning over her new electric mixer, serving her husband dinner after he gets out of work, or enjoying a martini after a long day of doing things for everyone but herself.
A brilliantly sarcastic line always accompanies the image. For instance, there’s one featuring an attractive woman, paired with the line, “There was nothing passive about her aggression,” or a woman beaming in front of her well-stocked refrigerator, saying “Guess where I’m tattooed.” The visual and text contrast is striking. It’s also hilarious.
“The line itself isn’t funny on its own. But paired with the image, it works really well,” said Taintor, who now makes her home in rural New Mexico, after living in Maine for nearly 40 years. “I don’t think I’m laughing at men. Well, sometimes I am. But I’m really laughing at the situation.”
Taintor grew up in Lewiston, and after high school attended Harvard University, majoring in visual and environmental studies — studio art, essentially — and first specialized in animation and drawing, before moving onto collage.
“I found cutting up pieces of material very meditative. Plus, there is a very hyper-organized aspect of my personality that’s always filing things and counter-indexing,” she said. “I can indulge that with collage.”
After college, Taintor moved back to Maine, to the Portland area. She bounced around professions, working at DeLorme Maps and in shops and restaurants around town. Taintor eventually found herself as a single mom with no outlet for her creativity.
“I didn’t have any child support. I was tired of the jobs I had. I knew the things I was good at, and I thought maybe I could make collage for money on the side,” said Taintor. “My father, who is the most fiscally conservative person in the universe, said, ‘Why don’t you just do collage full time? You don’t have any job security now, so what difference does it make?’”
Taintor did just that. Around the same time, she came across the things that became the foundation of her now-iconic images — the models that portrayed ever-smiling housewives in 1940s print advertising.
“I got a pile of old Ladies Home Journals at a yard sale. I loved the women in the ads, who were so perfectly made up and smiling, and so utterly thrilled to have refrigerators and modern kitchens,” said Taintor. “Plus, the print quality of those images are so wonderful. It really lends itself to collage.”
The perfect housewives in those ads were modeled on real people — women who, like most women, weren’t content to simply cook, clean and make their husbands happy. Behind the perfect facade were real people.
“They were portraying these empty-headed, ‘I love my appliance’ women, but they saw the humor in what they were doing. They had a feminist edge before anyone really knew feminism,” said Taintor. “I’ve had the opportunity to meet several of the models for these ads, most of whom are now in their 80s. At the time, even they thought it was funny.”
It’s Taintor’s mix of dry sarcasm and social commentary that makes her brand so appealing to so many. Both women and men understand that society has moved on, in many ways, from those old-fashioned gender-based expectations that relegated women to two roles: wife and mother, dutiful servant to husband and children. Back then, upon marriage, your professional and creative life was over — and if you didn’t get married, you were pitied or shunned. While other forms of misogyny certainly exist in society even today, we are now able to look back on those times and laugh.
“I think I take everything way too seriously. I take the expectations society places on people, especially in regards to gender, very seriously,” said Taintor. “My humor is a way of taking the edge off that. I can laugh at myself, and at the things I get offended by.”
Taintor also has a commitment to selling in and supporting small businesses. As someone who has her roots in small business ownership, she understands the difficulties of owning your own retail store. When she first started out, she sold her early cards and other ephemera to small shops and at craft fairs in and around Portland.
“Maine was a great place to start a business. There are, even to this day, a lot of mom-and-pop small stores that will try your stuff out if you approach them,” said Taintor. “And it’s close enough to bigger cities that you can get yourself out there on your own.”
Now, Taintor has trucks that ship her products all over the country, as well as a small staff of employees. Though her products are sold in retailers as large as Crate & Barrel and Sur La Table, she has managed to keep her company as independent as possible — selling in more small businesses than large chains. And while she makes her home in New Mexico, she hopes to move back to Maine in the near future.
“Maine is home. I want to be closer to my family,” said Taintor. “Maine has changed a lot over the past decade or so. It’s not as monochrome. There are more things happening. I’d like to come back.”
To order Anne Taintor products, or to find a list of vendors, visit www.annetaintor.com.