"She turned everything from garden flowers to ancient Incan motifs into scarves and dresses, home textiles and posters. Her customers trusted Vera to manage the rainbow for them, and as a result, they were often some of the most confidently colorful ladies around." — Pantone: The 20th Century in Color
Over a career that spanned five decades, Vera Neumann brought art to the everyday. Her paintings of florals and foreign lands graced humble napkins and neck scarves, all signed in cursive, and later, with her signature ladybug. With products created from her thousands of original works, she surrounded Americans with accessible art, putting her a on first-name basis with generations of women.
Born in 1907 to Russian immigrants, Vera grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, where she immersed herself in nature and her creativity was nurtured. From a young age, she would press ferns and sketch sunflowers. After attending art school and serving a brief stint as a fashion illustrator, Vera met husband George Neumann, an ad man with a family background in textiles. They started Printex in 1942 in their Gramercy Park studio, with a handmade screen printer just large enough to produce napkins and placemats. These were reproduced from Vera's original watercolor paintings, which continued to be her signature throughout her life. Her first collection, Gold Coast — and her first licensing agreement, with F. Schumacher & Co. for 10,000 yards — included Asian-inspired prints like the cherry blossom Tibet.
Scarves didn't factor into the plan until wartime supplies of linen and cotton were low. When Vera found some parachute silk, it became her new medium, and was quickly picked up by Lord & Taylor. The little cursive 'Vera' on every piece started the signature scarf trend; up until then, no designer had ever signed a scarf.
"People want to feel or express emotions in their clothes and furnishings. A bland cocoon is a dull existence." - Vera
Her signature wasn't her only innovation. A rare artist with a knack for marketing, Vera was the first to register her original designs with the Library of Congress, and the first to create a full lifestyle brand, with her name on everything from wallpaper to dresses. Her collections were announced with posters, her showrooms named the Vera Galleries. Truly diverse, she created travel and tourism posters, as well as some for her favorite charitable causes. Vera helped bridge fashion and décor by teaching customers how to mount and frame their scarves for colorful inexpensive artwork.
In 1972, Vera was the first resident artist at the Smithsonian, where her painting featuring the Foucault Pendulum became an icon. Her work has since the subject of many retrospectives and exhibitions, including one at MOMA.
Though Vera passed away in 1993, the simple flow of her Japanese sumi-e florals, bold graphics, and innovatively colored pairings live on in vintage products, as well as new licensing to brands like Anthropologie and Crate & Barrel, where they create new Vera fans around the world.
(Images: 1. Walter Erhard via Shelley Davies, 2. The Life Archives via Ana Montiel, 3. National Park Service/Abbie Rowe via Stylelist, 4. Elle Decor, 5. Flickr user doublewinky, used with permission, 6. Bert Stern/Taschen via The Hollywood Reporter, 7. via Stylelist, 8. Vogue, scan used with permission by Flickr user Library Fashionista, 9. Susan of West Coast Crafty, 10. Crate & Barrel, 11. Anthropologie)