November 19, 2017
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‘Everything has been insane’ for Maine artist who drew black Rosie the Riveter for The New Yorker

By Beth Brogan, BDN Staff
Updated:
The New Yorker | BDN
The New Yorker | BDN
Freeport artist Abigail Gray Swartz drew on her experience at the Jan. 21 Women's March in Augusta to create her first cover for The New Yorker. The cover, "The March," depicts a black Rosie the Riveter wearing a pink, knitted hat.

FREEPORT, Maine — Freeport artist Abigail Gray Swartz was among more than 10,000 women, men and children who swarmed into Augusta on Jan. 21 to join the national Women’s March a day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Two days later, she was still processing all she’d seen and heard at the protest and social media posts about it, about all the pink hats she’d knit and seen that day, and about a headline she saw that said, “We the people.”

“I thought about the hats, and how iconic they are,” she said last week. “It struck me how, back in World War II, we as women filled the factory jobs. Women rationed silk stockings for silk parachutes, and made a lot of domestic sacrifices and knit things for soldiers. In the modern day, we’re knitting something for ourselves, and knitting it to reclaim a word that was used in such a horrendous way by our president. I realized how symbolic it was … so I did a mockup of Rosie with a pussy hat on and thought, ‘I’ll just send it to The New Yorker.’”

Swartz painted a magazine cover that reimagines Rosie the Riveter as a black woman wearing a pink knit hat that has come to symbolize opposition to Trump’s policies and persona.

That night, the magazine’s art editor, Francoise Mouly, contacted her.

“They said, ‘Yes, we’d like to go for it,’” Swartz said. “Everything has been insane since then.”

Her art appears on the Feb. 6 issues of The New Yorker, which came out this week.

“I said, ‘Sure, I have a sick kid at home all week, but I’ll just do what other mother artists do,’” she said. “I just went for it. I scanned it and sent it in. At 3 o’clock that day they said, ‘Could you FedEx us the artwork?’”

Creating a cover for the iconic magazine was a lifelong dream for Swartz: despite having seen her art already in The New York Times, Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter and Mouly’s Women’s March newspaper, Resist, she’d never landed the cover of The New Yorker.

A self-described activist who supports LGBTQ people, efforts to improve the safety and quality of life for new refugees, and Black Lives Matter, Swartz has said her cover stemmed from her awareness of social issues.

“As a white woman, I am sensitive to the issues about race and the Women’s March,” Swartz told the Huffington Post. “I was well aware of the need for inclusion. I agree that white women need to show up to the Black Lives Matter rallies. If one hurts, we all hurt. Plus it’s simply your moral obligation as a white woman to acknowledge your privilege and to use it to help others. It’s the rent you must pay.”

The high-profile cover has already opened doors that Swartz said were not completely, but maybe partway, closed to her.

“I emailed them like, ‘Hey, do you think you could bump me to the top of the line now that I’ve done the cover of The New Yorker,’” she said of publications that had placed her on a waiting list. “They were like, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ It’s nice to have the golden ticket.”

Her pay for the art, she said, plus the royalties when the magazine sells prints of it, should help her finance more of her own projects, which previously suffered as she pursued a paycheck, she said. She’s illustrating and writing several children’s books.

On Thursday afternoon, Swartz posted a photo of an issue of the Feb. 6 issue, along with a note from her New Yorker editors praising her “first” cover, on Instagram.

“My big stack of @newyorkermag just arrived and I’m beaming!” she wrote.


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