Edward Penfield: An American Master


Edward Penfield at his easle, painting 'Coming Home for Thanksgiving', c.1922. Photo, de Wyze.
Top right, self portrait from Posters in Miniature, 1895. Above left, Penfield with ‘Coming Home for Thanksgiving’ c.1922. Photo, de Wyze.

When one discusses American poster design, inevitably Edward Penfield’s name is mentioned in the conversation. Indeed, this shy, retiring New Yorker has been called the “originator of the poster in America.” Poster enthusiasts have been avidly collecting his contributions to this craft for over one hundred years. To this day, Penfield’s series of advertising ‘placards’ for Harper's New Monthly Magazine — some 75 in all — are the most recognized and collected of his works.

What many do not realize is that Penfield’s Harpers years account for less than a third of his thirty-four year career. During the decade after his self-retirement from Harper and Brothers, his freelance work was seen by millions of people on hundreds of magazine covers and advertisements.

Not a boisterous self-promoter like some of his contemporaries — he rarely gave personal interviews — Penfield preferred to live a quiet life near his ancestral stomping grounds in New York. But at the same time he was considered “that rare person among artists, an active citizen.” He volunteered for civic duties, spoke at womens’ clubs, taught at the Art Students’s League and served as president of the Society of Illustrators.

Penfield died 8 Feb 1925 at Craig House Sanitarium in Beacon, New York, while convalescing from a fall that injured his spine more than a year earlier.

More than a poster artist, Edward Penfield was an illustrator, art editor, graphic designer, writer, painter, educator and mentor — an American Master.