Artist unexpectedly lands New Yorker cover after attending women's march

Abigail Gray Swartz was thrilled when the magazine chose her unsolicited submission — based on the World War II Rosie the Riveter poster and inspired by her experience marching on her state capital — for its latest cover.
The cover of the latest New Yorker, by illustrator Abigail Gray Swartz (The New Yorker/Courtesy of Abigail Gray Swartz)

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If you pick up a copy of the latest The New Yorker magazine, the image on the front will be instantly recognizable.

It's not that pompous guy with the top hat and monocle, Eustace Tilley. It's not a guy at all. It's an homage to the famous World War II image of Rosie the Riveter. But this Rosie is African-American. And, instead of a bandana, she's wearing a knitted pink "pussy" hat — a symbol of the women's marches attended by millions around the world, after the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

The freelance artist behind the painting submitted it on a whim last week with no idea The New Yorker would accept it.

Abigail Gray Swartz spoke with As it Happens guest host Helen Mann from Freeport, Maine. Here's part of their conversation.

A "selfie" portrait by the artist (Courtesy of Abigail Gray Swartz)

Helen Mann: Ms. Swartz, has this been a dream of yours for a long time?

AGS: It has, yeah. At first, it was sort of a dream that I didn't know that I had. But it's been a pretty strong dream for the past three years.

During World War Two, we as women had to work in the factories and we had to knit for the soldiers. In this day and age, we're sort of being called to make again. But instead of making it for the soldiers, we're making it for ourselves.- Abigail Gray Swartz

HM: So you sent this cover design unsolicited. Did you ever expect you'd get a response like you got?

AGS: No I didn't. I mean I'd hoped, 'cause every freelance illustrator has a little bit of hope. But we send out so many pitches and queries and submissions so often that you sort of get used to maybe not hearing back. So yeah, it was a nice surprise.

HM: Tell me about this image. It's based on the classic Rosie the Riveter — most people know this. But you put her in a pink so-called "pussy hat."

AGS: I'm a knitter. And I watch other knitters on social media, mostly on Instagram, sharing hat, after hat, after hat that they were working on. And it was sort of this unifying activity, even before the march. And women were giving them to friends or giving them to complete strangers . . . And so I knew it would be a really important symbol. And then just seeing all the images flood in and these seas of pink and men and women both wearing the hats — it was pretty obvious to use it in some fashion. And I was thinking about how, during World War II, we as women had to work in the factories and we had to ration silk stockings for parachutes and we had to knit for the soldiers. And how, in this day and age, we're sort of being called to make again. But instead of making it for the soldiers, we're making it for ourselves. 

HM: In your case, though, Rosie is a women of colour. Why is that important to you?

Images by the artist inspired by her participation in the Women's March in Augusta, Maine. (Courtesy of Abigail Gray Swartz)

AGS: It's important to me as an artist to represent diversity. I try to in my editorial work. Sometimes editorial work can be one step up from a stock image photo. And for some reason it seems to be very whitewashed. So I would always, with my editorial work, try to offer a balance. And so I knew with this, it was just another venue to do that. And also recently I'd read how, particularly [for] children of colour in schools, how important it was for them to continue to see images of Barack Obama in their schools. And so it was just was a natural thing to also do a woman of colour for The New Yorker

A woman in a "pussy hat" protests outside the state capitol in Augusta, Maine, January 21, 2017. (Abigail Gray Swartz)

HM: What kind of response have you had to the cover and the news that you got it?

AGS: It's been really crazy. I've received a lot of great emails, ranging from people who are really enthusiastic and congratulate me to people who are sharing their own stories of their mothers or grandmothers who were their own version of Rosie when they were young. And it's been really special to read that.

This interview transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to the full interview with Abigail Gray Swartz.


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